JPMorgan picks up Bear Stearns at bargain counter

JPMorgan Chase agreed to buy Bear Stearns for about $236 million, or $2 a share—less than 10 percent of its already decimated $3.5 billion value on Friday. The sale ends 85 years of independence at the No. 5 Wall Street securities firm. (The Wall Street Journal) The U.S. government assumed much of the remaining risk in the deal, securing up to $30 billion of Bear’s “less-liquid assets,” notably mortgage-backed securities. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) The Federal Reserve also cut its discount rate by 25 points, to 3.25 percent, and opened a lending facility to investment banks, not just commercial banks. “Desperate times need desperate measures,” said economist Craig James at CommSec in Sydney. (Reuters)

Asian markets tumble

Stock markets in Asia closed sharply lower today, as investors rattled by the Bear Stearns bailout and sale tried to gauge the extent of trouble in the financial sector. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 closed down 3.7 percent, to its lowest level in two and a half years. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slumped 5.2 percent. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) The U.S. dollar hit new lows against the euro and Swiss franc, and a 12-year low against the yen. Gold, oil, and bonds all climbed. (Bloomberg) Stocks in Europe also traded lower early today. “The markets are in a complete state of panic, and in such situations there is no such thing as valuation or value in any asset,” said Michael Klawitter at Dresdner Kleinwort in Frankfurt. (Reuters)

Weyerhaeuser sells cardboard unit for $6 billion

Federal Way, Wash.-based forest-products company Weyerhaeuser Co. sold its containerboard, packaging, and recycling unit to rival International Paper for $6 billion in cash. Memphis-based International said it expects to reap $1.4 billion in tax benefits from the deal, effectively reducing the price tag to $4.6 billion. (MarketWatch) The move affects 14,300 people at about 110 facilities. (Reuters) The new plants from Weyerhaeuser will add to International Paper’s operations in Brazil, Morocco, and Russia. “This deal represents a compelling opportunity,” said International CEO John Faraci. (Bloomberg)

A rise in Irish spirits

Irish whiskey is booming, especially in the U.S., where sales grew 20 percent last year. Jameson, owned by France’s Pernod Ricard, is the biggest brand here, selling 540,000 cases last year. In a distant second is Bushmills, with 164,000 cases. Irish whiskey is especially popular among the 25- to 35-year-old age group, which the distillers attribute to its “approachable” taste. Unlike scotch, which typically has a distinct peaty taste, Irish whiskey can go head-to-head against vodka. “The Irish whiskey category has very strong crossover appeal,” said David Fleming, editor of Impact. “In the U.S. it’s not only a drink for Irish-Americans, it’s also in the mainstream.” (MarketWatch)