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What’s The Biggest Check Ever Written?

What is the largest physical check that has ever been created, delivered, and cashed? We’ll give you a hint, it involved Morgan Stanley at the absolute worst part of the 2008 financial crisis.

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Which of your largest checks have you ever written? Most people’s largest check will likely be a few thousand dollars to cover the first and last month’s rent as well as the security deposit for an apartment. Any significant sum, such as a down payment on a house, is typically transmitted online.

The business world is the same. A business will cut checks for employee salaries and maybe some smaller business deals, but for bigger transactions an electronic wire is by far the preferred method.

On the other hand, during the course of modern financial history, there have undoubtedly been some very big checks written, ranging in value from the millions to the hundreds of millions of dollars. What is the largest physical check that has ever been written? We must go back in time a little bit in order to find out.

October 2008

October 2008 has come. An unmanageable financial crisis has the entire planet in upheaval. The entire world’s economy was falling apart. Banks that weeks earlier were considered among the most reliable and steadfast institutions in the corporate world, were perilously close to insolvency. Bear Stearns was bought for pennies on the dollar after Lehman Brothers fell.

Morgan Stanley briefly considered doing business with a Chinese bank that was under state control, but finally settled on Mitsubishi UFJ.

The issue was time pressure. Investor confidence had decimated Morgan Stanley’s stock price from nearly $60 a share to less than $10, and there didn’t appear to be an end to the pain in sight.

“Too bad you can’t just write a check!”

The negotiation teams ran into a roadblock at that point.

First of all, it was a holiday weekend, and banks in both nations would be closed until Tuesday.

#2) Second, it typically takes 2-3 days to wire any amount of money, and Morgan Stanley might not have endured another 24 hours.

One of the Morgan Stanley deal makers remarked, “so bad you can’t just write a check,” in an attempt to solve the $9 billion problem.

There was laughter from both squads. But then, a few minutes later, one of the top Morgan Stanley executives made the astonishing realization that a check actually might work.

There was no reason Morgan Stanley couldn’t accept and deposit a $9 billion cheque before the markets opened on Tuesday morning if Mitsubishi had the money to cover it. From an accounting/regulation standpoint, a paper check “checked” all the boxes that allowed Morgan Stanley to officially announce the merger and hopefully reverse their deteriorating stock price.

In order to phone the home office and learn more about their capabilities, the Japanese crew promptly left. As luck would have it, Mitsubishi UFJ did indeed keep enough of a checking account balance to cover and clear a $9 billion check.

After a few hours of phone calls and arrangements, the Mitsubishi bankers returned to Morgan Stanley’s headquarters with a check for $9 billion. That’s nine zeros after the number nine. Counting the pennies, there are eleven zeros. The largest check ever written, it was and still is, was written.

The acquisition was finalized, and Morgan Stanley instantly disclosed it to the world.

Their stock price rose by 85% on Tuesday, from $9.68 to $17.92. The share price of Morgan Stanley is over $100 right now. The market value of the business is $190 billion. So that $9 billion investment for a 21% stake has turned into $40 billion not including dividends!

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