Updated from 8:22 a.m. EST Investors at long last were buying WorldCom ( WCOM) stock again Thursday, in part because of some selling going on at the big long-distance carrier. The stock ended a long slide after WorldCom's fourth-quarter revenue fell short of analysts' expectations. As expected, the company also lowered its 2002 guidance, trimmed capital spending plans and cleared the way to take a big charge to account for bubble-era acquisitions it overpaid for with its own stock. But there was some bright news too. Commenting on an issue that has gained significant traction in the market, CEO Bernie Ebbers said in a conference call Thursday morning that he is selling personal assets -- but not his WorldCom stock -- to pay down his own debt. As
WorldCom regulatory filings have indicated, the recent plunge in WorldCom shares may have put the executive and his company on the hook for a $183.7 million loan collateralized by his Ebbers' WorldCom stock. News that Ebbers is raising cash reduces the risk that his shares will flood into the market, further punishing the stock, which has lost nearly half its value this year. WorldCom's shares rallied 92 cents, or 14%, to $7.61. On Wednesday TheStreet.com examined the likelihood that anything short of total disaster in WorldCom's earnings announcement would be welcomed by investors. Also notably, WorldCom said its exposure to Global Crossing, which recently declared bankruptcy, is less than $10 million, with no material negative impact seen, and said it wrote off all of its $1.5 million in Enron exposure in the fourth quarter. "The company does not believe that it has material exposure to any individual emerging carrier," WorldCom said. In keeping with its acquisitive tech peers, WorldCom also trimmed its 2002 capital spending target and said it would take a noncash writedown of $15 billion to $20 billion to bring its books in line with the actual value of acquired assets. The telephone and data carrier said fourth-quarter revenue was about $5.3 billion, while earnings before goodwill amortization were $595 million, or 20 cents a share. Bottom-line earnings were $384 million, or 13 cents a share. Analysts had been predicting earnings of 14 cents a share on revenue of $5.5 billion. For 2002, the company predicted earnings of 75 cents to 80 cents a share, below the consensus estimate of 95 cents compiled by First Call. Full-year revenues are expected to rise in the mid-single digits, below its previous prediction of the high-single digits. The company posted $21.3 billion in full-year 2001 revenue and was expected to post revenue of $23.4 billion this year. WorldCom said it broke even on a cash flow basis in the fourth quarter excluding a $200 million prepayment to a network service provider and said group debt fell by $1 billion to $24.7 billion. The company expects to make capital expenditures of $5 billion to $5.5 billion in 2002, which is some $300 million to $800 million below its earlier targets. WorldCom's MCI Group ( MCIT) posted a loss before goodwill amortization of $25 million, or 20 cents a share, on revenue of $3.2 billion in the fourth quarter.