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Lehman shares rebound as Fuld pledges to execute

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NEW YORK — Lehman Brothers Chief Executive Richard Fuld on Monday took the blame for the company's staggering second-quarter loss, and said the investment bank was too slow in reacting to the credit crisis.

"This is my responsibility," Fuld declared in his first comments since the bank forecast last week it lost nearly $3 billion from bad bets in mortgage-backed securities and other risky investments. As the longest serving CEO left on Wall Street, his mission now is clearly to restore confidence to the firm's tarnished image.

"We made active decisions to deploy our capital, some of which in hindsight were poor choices because we really didn't act quickly enough to the eroding environment," Fuld, sounding agitated on a conference call with analysts.

He pointed out that the investment house has acted quickly since recording its first loss since going public in 1994. Lehman last week raised $6 billion of fresh capital and demoted its chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

Lehman also reduced the size of its balance sheet by $147 billion, more than Fuld had targeted for the quarter. Meanwhile, it slashed mortgage holdings by 20 percent _ higher than the original forecast of 15 percent.

Many of the reductions came from unstable mortgage-backed securities and leveraged loans that caused financial companies globally to write down nearly $300 billion since last year. The crisis has caused the ouster of Fuld's peers from Merrill Lynch & Co. and Citigroup Inc., and nearly caused the collapse of Bear Stearns before it was sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Wall Street is awaiting second-quarter results from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on Tuesday and Morgan Stanley on Wednesday.

Fuld, while not able to rule out the possibility of further problems, said he's "gotten the message" and is comfortable with the investment bank's current positions.

And investors appear to have regained some confidence in Fuld. Shares of the company, which last week plunged by 30 percent before rebounding on Friday, rose $1.39, or 5.4 percent, to close at $27.20 Monday.

"Lehman's survival as an independent entity should not be at stake," said Chermaine Lee, an analyst with Boston-based financial consulting firm Celent. "Yes, their exposure to subprime was very heavy and yes, they are comparatively smaller as an investment bank, but they have taken credible measures thus far in reducing their leveraged positions, getting rid of subprime and mortgage-related assets from their balance sheet."

The company reported a loss of $2.87 billion, or $5.14 per share, compared with a profit of $1.26 billion, or $2.21 per share, a year earlier. Markdowns on risky assets caused revenue to hit negative $668 million from last year's $5.51 billion.

The losses caused the ouster of Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan and Chief Operating Officer Joseph Gregory. Callan, who took the job in December, was one of the highest ranking women on Wall Street. Gregory had been with Lehman for three decades, and considered to be a close confidant to Fuld.

Though the move was unexpected by Wall Street, analysts said it was designed to reassure investors who felt Fuld wasn't doing enough to right Lehman's balance sheet. While he doesn't expect to raise more capital this year, the company still does face a struggle to win back investor confidence.

Ian Lewitt, Lehman's newly installed CFO, said he realizes that management has a tough job ahead of them.

"What do you do to rebuild confidence? You provide information; you're transparent, and you clearly answer the questions asked and most importantly, you show through your performance," he said in an interview.