Lewis takes $1 billion hit from Bear Stearns
By Marc Jones Mon Mar 17, 3:42 PM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Even the most successful investors can get it horribly wrong, as reclusive British tycoon Joe Lewis has just found out.
The septuagenarian British billionaire currency trader last year built a stake approaching 10 percent in Bear Stearns (BSC.N), a U.S. investment bank weakened by the subprime crisis and widely seen as a takeover target.
The speculation was half right. JP Morgan (JPM.N) set a deal to buy the stricken bank over the weekend, but at a knockdown $2 a share, implying a loss for Lewis of more than $1 billion.
Lewis on Monday called the takeover offer "derisory," according to U.S. business news channel CNBC, and said he does not expect JP Morgan to be successful in closing the deal.
The reclusive financier, who dropped out of school aged 15 to work in his father's pub in London's East End, is one of Britain's richest men.
He made most of his estimated fortune of over $5 billion from foreign exchange bets that shook some of the world biggest currencies. [I am perplexed that someone can actually make a fortune "exchanging bets". Is this just?]
An avid golfer and a shareholder in London soccer club Tottenham Hotspur, Lewis counts golf professionals Ernie Els and Tiger Woods as business partners. Actor Sean Connery is a friend and neighbor in his Bahamas resort.
Lewis, who generally prefers to stay out of the limelight, grabbed headlines last year after building the biggest individual-owned stake in Bear Stearns, the U.S's fifth-biggest investment bank.
He paid more than $100 a piece for the majority of his 11 million shares, according to U.S regulatory filings. It is unclear whether he had hedged the nearly 10 percent holding.
A soccer industry deal maker who knows Lewis said he was not the kind of man to lose money.
"He certainly paid real money for that (Bear Stearns stake) but where, and how he hedged who knows," he said.
With a fortune of 2.8 billion pounds ($5.6 billion) according to the latest Sunday Times rich list, Lewis ranks in a Top 20 list of the richest Britons and is the 369th wealthiest person worldwide, according to U.S. magazine Forbes.
Lewis sold the family business in the late 1970s and turned his hand to currency trading.
Today, he divides his time between his Bahamas home, a luxury estate in the Orlando, Florida area, and property he owns in Argentina, where in 1999 there was a reported plot on his life.
Lewis' U.S. investment firm, the Tavistock Group, is also based in Florida.
It has a portfolio of investments in 170 companies in 15 countries, according to its Web site, including luxury developments, U.S. restaurant chains such as Napa Grille and Alcatraz Brewing Co, and biotech firms.
Lewis' luxury beach-side Nassau, Bahamas resort is one of Tavistock's investments and was featured in the 2006 James Bond blockbuster "Casino Royale."
Lewis' golfing pals Els and Woods are shareholders and consultants for a new golfing complex.
According to one report, it was the actor and one-time James Bond, Connery, who encouraged Lewis to branch into soccer.
In 2001 Lewis bought into premier league side Tottenham and later took stakes in Glasgow Rangers and several other European teams.
Owning a leading English club threw Lewis into the British spotlight, but he is still relatively unknown in the United States, which is just fine with the reclusive billionaire.
"I really feel that, if one is successful, one of the rewards of your success is the quiet enjoyment of it," Lewis told the New York Times in a rare media interview about a decade ago.
[A man with so much superfluous wealth should think about the concerns of common good. Once a man has provided for his basic necessities anything above, at least partially, should be used for those less fortunate. The incredible wealth of this man makes me sick to the stomach.]