On Friday morning, September 12, 2008, the New York investment bank Lehman Brothers was on the brink of bankruptcy. Over the course of the next four days, this situation would precipitate a rapid series of crisis meetings between American and British government officials, central-bank leaders, major international banks, and private investors. Already in March of the same year, the investment bank Bear Stearns had been forced to accept a merger with JPMorgan Chase, supported by a $29 billion government guarantee, and after the mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received a $140 billion bailout during the summer, the US secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulsen, refused to consider the use of additional taxpayer dollars to save Lehman. By Friday evening, then, it had become clear to the American and European bank representatives that a private-sector solution was necessary. Various investors would take part; risk would be spread out. Bank of America and Barclays, based in London, were interested. Meanwhile, the insurance firm American International Group (AIG) also announced liquidity problems, and by Saturday morning it was obvious that the “well-being of the global financial system” was in danger, as one of the participating bank managers put it. At the same time, the investment bank Merrill Lynch, also hard hit, was looking for additional capital investment, concerned that, following the Lehman bailout, the crisis would seek out the next weakest link in the system. And indeed, after hasty and secret negotiations, Merrill was taken over by Bank of America, which hoped the acquisition would give it better access to the international investment business. But Bank of America was no longer interested in saving Lehman Brothers.

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