Struggling US investment bank Lehman Bros has brought forward its third quarter financial statement by a week, and will now make the crucial announcement tonight, Australian time. The bank has also promised to detail new capital initiatives after its shares sank 45% on Wall Street overnight.

These will be crucial announcements for world markets already battered after a day of growing fears about the health of the US economy in the wake of the bailout of mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The fall in the Lehman Bros stock and weakness elsewhere made for a very nasty day on Wall Street, especially among the financial stocks. With falls in oil and gold, our market was tipped to be down 164 points (over 3%) at the opening on our futures market, but it was only down around 130 points, or 2.5%.

Lehman will attempt to convince the markets that it will not experience the same fate as its smaller competitor, Bear Stearns, which was bailed out and taken over in March by JPMorgan, helped with a $US30 billion guarantee from the US Federal Reserve.

Lehman will now report around 9.30pm tonight, our time, or around 7.30am Wednesday, New York time, a statement this morning said. Lehman had been due to report after trading next Thursday, US time, or early Friday morning, September 19, Sydney time.

The news was released after the company’s shares plunged $US6.36 to $US7.79 overnight after talks with Korea Development Bank ended. The stock has dropped 88% so far this year.

The talks with the Korea Development Bank ended over a 25% stake; originally it was a 50% stake, but Lehman management wanted more than the KDB was prepared to pay, and then South Korean financial regulators went public with their opposition to a deal. Lehman is reported to have been talking to other banks (HSBC is a tip) and to sovereign wealth funds in Asia (China?).

The news sent Wall Street down sharply, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had its biggest fall of 2008: down 3.4% as oil, commodity, metals processing and a wide range of financial shares tumbled.

Lehman might have been the catalyst, but the fall was across the board and few stocks were spared some sort of pressure.

The drop in oil, copper and gold, allied to the Lehman news, will batter markets in this part of the world today.

Asia-Pacific stocks dropped on yesterday, led by falls in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong which quickly reversed the solid Monday gains on the back of the bailing out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

American International Group, the world’s largest insurer, struggled to avoid joining Lehman Bros as doubts continued about its financial health. It has lost over $US12 billion so far from poor investments in subprime related and credit securities that have bombed. It has raised billions in new capital, but that hasn’t been enough to ease the fears; its shares fell 19% yesterday.

Washington Mutual, America’s biggest savings and loan and now being overseen by regulators, also fell sharply: the already weakened shares lost another 20% yesterday.

A steeper-than-expected drop in pending home sales also weighed on sentiment, reminding investors that the huge overhang of unsold houses and falling home prices was not easing, despite the best attempts of some analysts to find a silver lining in that black hole.

The US National Association of Realtors index of pending home re-sales fell 3.2% in July, snuffing out the seemingly bullish 5.8% rise of June.

Meanwhile, federal officials warned Tuesday that the budget deficit will be substantially higher this year, rising $246 billion to $407 billion, reflecting the tax rebates and an increase in spending.

Peter Fray

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