Read this report on the shenanigans Lehman Brothers undertook to hide its precarious financial state. Recall the Lehman bankruptcy is what really freaked everyone out and even though it might not have been the actual cause of the bank bailouts, it was most likely the key trigger.
From the link:
It is the Wall Street equivalent of a coroner’s report — a 2,200-page document that lays out, in new and startling detail, how Lehman Brothers used accounting sleight of hand to conceal the bad investments that led to its undoing.
The report, compiled by an examiner for the bank, now bankrupt, hit Wall Street with a thud late Thursday. The 158-year-old company, it concluded, died from multiple causes. Among them were bad mortgage holdings and, less directly, demands by rivals like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, that the foundering bank post collateral against loans it desperately needed.
According to the report, Lehman used what amounted to financial engineering to temporarily shuffle $50 billion of assets off its books in the months before its collapse in September 2008 to conceal its dependence on leverage, or borrowed money. Senior Lehman executives, as well as the bank’s accountants at Ernst & Young, were aware of the moves, according to Mr. Valukas, the chairman of the law firm Jenner & Block and a former federal prosecutor, who filed the report in connection with Lehman’s bankruptcy case.
Richard S. Fuld Jr., Lehman’s former chief executive, certified the misleading accounts, the report said.