A $73 million lawsuit against Bankers Trust New York Corp. by Gibson Greetings Inc., could set the stage for similar suits by other disgruntled derivatives users, some observers said.
The lawsuit alleges that Bankers Trust and its affiliate, BT Securities Corp., made false representations and failed to disclose to the Cincinnati-based greeting card giant the risks involved with the derivatives and swaps products it was selling them, leading to a loss of $19.7 million on leveraged swaps.
Robert W. Viets, a partner in the New York law firm Emmet, Marvin & Martin, said the case could set a precedent.
ML Viets, whose firm specializes in swaps and derivatives issues, said the crux of the case is Gibson Greetings' allegation that Bankers Trust breached the trust established during its long banking relationship with the greeting card maker.
"Gibson seems to be saying that they had a special relationship with Bankers because they were their lead bank. This is not a swaps case, but a fiduciary duty case. Now people are sitting around worrying about if they are a fiduciary if they do a swap," Mr. Viets said.
"Other potential litigants are watching," said Raphael Soifer, banking analyst at Brown Brothers HEman & Co.. "If Gibson wins or settles on favorable terms, that would unleash other lawsuits."
One potential litigant is Procter & Gamble Co., another Bankers Trust client, which lost $157 million on derivatives transactions earlier this year.
A spokeswoman said Procter & Gamble is still considering taking legal action against Bankers Trust, but has yet to make a final decision.
Other experts, however, were skeptical that Gibson can win, and said the suit would have little impact in the marketplace.
Leslie Rahl, co-owner of Capital Market Risk Advisors, a New York consultancy specializing in derivatives, pointed out that Gibson's loss was already known, so the news of the lawsuit won't discourage anyone from buying derivatives.
"It doesn't change the dynamics of the market," Ms. Rahl said. '"It's news that they fried a lawsuit, but it's not new news. "If it was a new company that no one knew about," she said, "that might make a difference."
Nor is the suit likely to affect Bankers Trust's valuation on the stock market, Mr. Softer added.
"The market as a whole has gotten tired of hearing about problems with derivatives;' Mr. Soifer said. "I've not changed my earnings estimates because of this."
Bankers Trust's relationship with Gibson Greetings goes back to 1983, when Gibson became a public company. Bankers Trust is the lead bank for the company"s $210 million revolving line of credit.
Gibson Greetings is seeking compensatory damages of $23 million and punitive damages of $50 million. The company also is seeking to have its open derivatives transactions with Bankers Trust declared void and unenforceable.
A spokesman for Gibson would not comment on the lawsuit. In a statement, the bank said, "The actions of Bankers Trust in connection with the contracts were legal, proper and appropriate."