Wednesday, November 12, 2008

General No-Growth

Investors in the Chicago-based owner of so much of Columbia are clearly betting on the possibility of bankruptcy. General Growth's stock closed at 48 cents on Tuesday, which if it stays there too long will affect its ability to list on the New York Stock Exchange and cause other problems.

What might bankruptcy mean? Not necessarily a lot to you and me. This story says shopping will likely go on as usual at the mall. And as we've mention here recently, WR Grace, the big local chemical company, has spent seven years under bankruptcy protection as it worked out a settlement in a multitude of cases involving asbestos-related claims.

In the real estate world, take a look at WCI Communities, the Florida developer of the ill-fated tower in downtown Columbia. WCI's lux highrise project may have been put on hold but the homebuilder continues to go about its business. In September, it secured financing to run operations while it cleans up its balance sheet. The company has cut its workforce by at least 400 since then, employing about 1,400 people now.

"The willingness of our lenders to continue investing in our business in this difficult economic environment provides a real boost to our restructuring efforts," said interim President and Chief Executive Officer David Fry. "The [financing], combined with our cash on hand, which currently substantially exceeds plan, provides us with adequate financial resources to fund our [post-bankruptcy filing] customer, vendor and employee obligations and other operating requirements pending confirmation of a plan," he continued.

It seems the way of the world these days that if struggling companies are not in bankruptcy their existence will be as one auto industry analyst recently put it "bankruptcy-like."

This economic downturn shows few signs of turning around quickly.

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