Neuberger Berman Won’t Participate in PPIP

(Reuters) – Neuberger Berman LLC Chief Executive George Walker, head of one of the largest U.S. money management firms, is the latest Wall Street executive to beg off the government’s toxic asset purchase program.

Walker told a gathering of reporters on Wednesday that his venerable firm had only weeks before completed its separation from former parent Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEHMQ.PK), which collapsed into bankruptcy last September.

The Public Private Investment Program, set forth by the Obama administration to cleanse the banking system of toxic loans and securities, has too many unanswered questions, he said.

“It’s not the right time. As long as there are questions about the program, we’ve had enough excitement,” said Walker, who is a second cousin to former President George W. Bush.

Neuberger joins a number of other investment managers who have declared they would not take part in the program, saying there were too many questions about how the plan would work and worries that any gains could later become controversial.

They include Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund manager, as well as commercial banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N). Elliott Management, another large hedge fund, soundly criticized the government’s toxic asset plan, though it stopped short of announcing whether it will or will not participate.

Walker noted that Neuberger would likely qualify to be a buyer of distressed debt clogging the balance sheets of U.S. banks. The firm manages $155 billion of assets for wealthy families and institutions, including $79 billion of fixed income assets.

“We’re large enough and we have enough expertise,” said Walker, previously global head of investment management for Lehman Brothers who spent 14 years at Goldman Sachs, where he last was head of alternative investment strategies.

Neuberger emerged as an independent, employee-owned firm on May 4. For now, when presented with a choice, he said, “we will choose the simple, plain vanilla option.” (Editing by Brian Moss)