Via the WSJ:

The outlines of plans to determine the fate of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. emerged today even as it became increasingly clear that a clean sale of the entire firm to a big bank would be too difficult to execute.

A sense of optimism that a rescue could be arranged today dimmed as a growing sense of gloom descended on Wall Street. Executives from top banks in the U.S. and Europe huddled with federal regulators in an attempt to come up with plans to either buy pieces of Lehman or prepare for an orderly winding down of the firm in a manner that would minimize the collateral damage for the ailing global financial system.

The two main players seem to be Barclay’s and Bank America:

Under one plan, either Barclays PLC or Bank of America Corp. would buy Lehman’s “good assets”, such as its equities business, people familiar with the matter say. Lehman’s more toxic, real-estate assets would be ring-fenced into a “bad” bank that would contain about $85 billion in souring assets. Other Wall Street firms would try to inject some capital into the bad bank to keep it afloat for a period of time so that a flood of bad assets don’t deluge the market, damaging the value of similar assets held by other banks and insurers. The banks are also looking for the government to somehow financially backstop the bad bank.

The problem, though, is getting enough banks to back that plan. While teams of bankers are working through structures, it’s clear that only a handful of banks are in a position to provide enough funding. Many banks are inclined to preserve capital ahead of third-quarter and year-end cash preservation moves. Also, banks aren’t keen to see a big rival such as Barclays or Bank of America walk away with valuable assets by only paying a pittance.

Obviously, there is no way that one or two banks get the good stuff and everybody else gets stuck with the dreck. If BAC of BCS want the good parts, they’ll have to take at least some of the bad. The idea of other Wall Street firms or banks injecting capital to maintain the bad assets seems optimistic to say the least. Most banks and brokers have their own capital problems.

Some are predicting doom for Monday if a deal doesn’t get done:

The real fear in the discussions, this person added, was that the fire-sale prices, or “marks” of Lehman’s real estate book could set off a cascade of problems for other Wall Street firms. If those marks were made against other banks’ portfolios, it could eventually force those firms to raise more capital, too. For firms’ considering funding the bad bank, the calculation has thus become the price of that contribution against the price of a widescale markdown.

There could be further effects to such an event, with the banks calling in loans from hedge funds and other clients, in turn setting off more forced selling that further depresses asset and securities prices.

“Unless something is settled, it’s going to be a bloodbath Monday,” said this person.

If that is so, why didn’t the market tank on Friday? Is there something here that wasn’t known already? I don’t think it was a mystery to anyone that Lehman was in trouble Friday. The only way it would make a difference Monday is if Lehman has to file bankruptcy. That may be their only course:

Lehman has hired law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP to prepare a potential bankruptcy filing, according to a person familiar with the situation. The New York-based Weil has a leading bankruptcy practice and advised Drexel Burnham Lambert on its 1990 bankruptcy filing.

Monday could be very interesting. I’ll keep updating….

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