Billionaire Lewis buys 7 pct Bear Stearns stake

Billionaire Lewis buys 7 pct Bear Stearns stake

New York, 10 September Reclusive billionaire Joseph C. Lewis, who made his fortune trading currencies, has taken a 7% stake in Bear Stearns Cos Inc, snapping up $860.4 million worth of the investment bank’s sagging stock to become one of its largest shareholders in less than a month.

Bear Stearns’ shares were up 0.6% at $106.03 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange after moving as high as $109.55 earlier.

Lewis disclosed the stake on 10 September in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. His stock purchases - between 6 August and 4 September -- make him one of Bear Stearns’ biggest shareholders, if not the largest.

Lewis owns 8.1 million shares of Bear Stearns, according to the SEC filing. That’s more than what any other shareholder reported at the end of June. At that time, Putnam Investment Management was Bear’s largest institutional shareholder with 7.03 million, or 6%, of Bear’s outstanding shares.

Bear Stearns Chairman and Chief Executive Jimmy Cayne owns about 5.8% of the company’s stock, including restricted stock and incentive-related shares, according to the company’s latest proxy statement.

Bear Stearns’ shares are down about 35% this year, hammered by the collapse of two hedge funds and its heavy reliance on mortgage-related revenue amid a meltdown in the subprime lending industry.

Born in London, Lewis operates from the Bahamas and Florida. His investments include English Premier League soccer club Tottenham Hotspur, golf course developments in Florida, Alcatraz Brewing Co. and life sciences companies. His investment vehicle, Tavistock Group, holds interests in more than 170 companies in 15 countries.

Forbes this year put Lewis at No. 369 on its world ranking of billionaires, with a net worth of $2.5 billion.

A New York Times profile of Lewis in 1998 said he was born in 1937 in London’s rough-and-tumble East End, the son of a pub owner. The newspaper said he dropped out of school when he was 15, but built his fortune on theme restaurants, currency trading and real estate speculation.

Lewis-controlled entities named Aquarian, Cambria, Darcin, Mandarin and Nivon bought large blocks of Bear Stearns shares in August and September, the SEC filing shows. The last reported purchase was a block of 400,000 shares on 4 September. REUTERS