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Well-Known Businesses Are Starting to Look Shaky


"This loss of hope is exacerbated by the state of the economy."

Some companies become so badly damaged because of changes in the competitive markets or because of poor management decisions that their employees lose hope. A company's staff may become demoralized because they believe their company has no future and that they might be laid off in efforts to remain financially stable.

This loss of hope is exacerbated by the state of the economy. A person who is fired in today’s market may discover (quite painfully) that it is extremely difficult to find new work. Nearly 6 million Americans have been unemployed for more than half a year, which signals that work is scarce.

24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of companies that are in deep trouble. The list is based on share prices, layoffs, analysts’ reports about their futures of these firms, and the extent to which they have missed Wall Street predictions about earnings-per-share.

1. Best Buy recently released earnings and they were much worse than Wall St. expected. Best Buy dropped its forecast for the balance of the year. It took the action because of concerns about TV and phone sales, along with worry about the economy. Best Buy has had a string of earnings failures, due primarily to its failure to do well online. Best Buy recently said its website would carry items from third-party stores to expand its attraction to shoppers. This did nothing to improve the perception that investors have of the company. Fitch downgraded Best Buy in June.

2. Research In Motion posted earnings recently that show its sharp decline has accelerated. Several analysts now believe the RIM BlackBerry smartphone will be no more than a “niche” product in a market it controlled almost completely four years ago. The bad earnings news took shares down from $29.54 to $23.93 in one day. RIM’s stock is off almost 50 percent in the past year, while shares in rival Apple are higher by more than 40 percent. RIM shipped only 200,000 units of its PlayBook tablet PC last quarter. Expectations had been for a number more than three times that. RIM revenue fell by 10 percent in the most recent period to $4.2 billion — a horrible situation for a company that was one of the most well-known growth stories for five years. The consensus among the media and Wall St. is that RIM has almost no chance to recover. It said in July it would lay off 10.5 percent of its workforce.

3. Talbots shares traded above $17 in May a year ago. They now trade at $3 after dipping to $2.25 recently. After the company released earnings two weeks ago, research firm Sterne Agee downgraded the stock to “neutral” from “buy.” The failing retailer said it expects to close about 110 stores in total, including 15 to 20 consolidations, through fiscal 2013. The corporation’s chief creative officer, Michael Smaldone, was fired as earnings were announced. Oddly, Talbots did not have a replacement when it took this action.

4. Hewlett-Packard announced earnings on August 18 and its shares promptly dropped to a 5-year low. HP also revised earnings forecasts down. Management said it might spin off the firm’s PC division, the largest in the world. So far, there are no takers. HP also discontinued it Palm operating system, which it bought only a year ago, and its tablet PC product. Investors believe, almost universally, that CEO Léo Apotheker does not have the strengths of his predecessor Mark V. Hurd, who was pushed out for ethical lapses. Wall St. seems certain that HP will lay off more people in addition to the sharp cuts it made in 2009 and 2010.

5. The U.S. Postal Service may be more troubled than any large public organization in America. It said it might lose as much as $10 billion this year. It teeters on the brink of insolvency. Its workers’ compensation liability is more than $12 billion. The USPS management has suggested it shutter thousands of individual post offices, layoff as many as 200,000 workers, and close over 250 service centers. Another suggestion by management is that delivery be cut to five days a week. No one should expect that the suggestions of executives at USPS will go unchallenged. The American Postal Workers Union most likely will strike to fight the job cuts.

6. Nintendos once nearly insurmountable lead in the video console sector has been lost, and its sales have fallen further and further behind rivals Microsoft and Sony. The rise of the Google Android operating system has also encouraged video game publishers to make more products that run on that platform. The 2010 market share of Nintendo DS fell from 70 percent in 2009 to 57 percent. Nintendo’s growth has also been damaged by the rise of the iPad and iPhone. The future is even grimmer. “iSuppli predicts Nintendo will sell 70 million 3DS gaming systems by 2015, a figure that is 21 million less than the 91 million in sales racked up by the original DS at the same point in its sales cycle,” according to the Unofficial Apple Weblog. Nintendo announced an unexpected quarterly loss on July 28 and its shares plunged 20 percent.

7. Cisco was one of the world’s greatest tech companies not long ago. Long-time CEO John Chambers made a series of decisions to expand Cisco beyond its core router business then. Very few of them paid off. Part of his plan was to diversify into the consumer electronics business, which weakened Cisco’s overall earnings strength. The company now makes TV set-top boxes, Linksys wi-fi hardware and home video-conferencing products. Chambers has been forced to reverse course, sell or cut back these operations and lay off 6,500 workers to make up for the losses caused by the diversification. Chambers’s job status is still in question. He lowered Cisco’s revenue forecasts recently to a growth rate of 3 percent to 5 percent for the next three years. Cisco’s newer businesses are not its only challenge though. The company has barely kept pace in the router business with China-based Huawei Technologies and Juniper.

8. Eastman Kodak’s run as a public company may be over soon. That would put the jobs of many of its 18,000 employees in jeopardy. Analysts think Kodak’s patents may be worth much more than that the company. Kodak has begun the process to find a buyer for these patents. MDB Capital Group told Bloomberg that the digital-imaging patents owned by Kodak might be valued at $3 billion in a sale. A sale of patents could mean Kodak will not keep all of its divisions. Its Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group sales dropped 14 percent to $369 million for the quarter. This is the area of the company’s business where it would be logical to start the next in a long line of lay-offs. Kodak’s cash position has become desperate. It has $957 million on hand compared to $1.624 billion at the end of the second quarter a year ago.

(Douglas A. McIntyre/Becket Adams — 24/7 Wall St./The Blaze)

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