While creditors continue to fight over the crumbs of Lehman Brothers, one tiny piece of the formerly giant investment bank just demonstrated close to a 66,000% return on investment -- as a collectors item: A 50-cent share in the bank was sold at auction in Germany on Saturday for 24,000 euros, the equivalent of a bit more than $33,000.
The stock certificate, numbered LB0001, was issued on May 31, 1994, when the bank went public. Measuring twelve inches by nine, the certificate hung in the office of CEO Richard Fuld as a souvenir of the firm's initial public offering.
After Lehman's collapse, the share wound up in a lot of mixed financial papers sold earlier this year, before landing at the HWPH Historisches Wertpapierhaus, an antique auctioneer specializing in historic investment memorabilia.
"In the run-up to the auction," The Local reports, HWPH chairman Matthias Schmitt "called the item 'the ultimate (stock) certificate of the financial crisis.'" The share's eventual selling price was nearly five times the minimum bid. "What happened here was just crazy," Schmitt said of the bidding.
The successful bidder -- much like the share's previous owner, these days -- prefers to remain anonymous. (In 2009, Portfolio magazine named Fuld the worst American CEO of all time. Other dubious honors for Fuld include ranking No. 9 on CNN's Ten Most Wanted: Culprits of the Collapse.)
Lehman Brothers was founded in 1850 in Montgomery, Ala., by three German emigrants -- brothers Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman -- born near the auction house in Würzberg. From humble cotton-trading origins, the firm rose to become the fourth largest investment bank in the United States. Lehman imploded in September 2008, collapsing under the weight of shady accounting practices and bad bets on subprime mortgages. Its fall led to the the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, and is credited with triggering the global financial crisis.
Agence France Presse notes that, more than three years later, creditors owed $370 billion will have to divvy up just $65 billion in recovered assets.