Portraying his company as a great American success story led astray by a few misguided individuals,
CEO John Sidgmore spun a Tuesday press conference into a preview of the summer's most improbable turnaround tale.
Draping his cash-strapped Clinton, Miss., telco with the stars and stripes as Independence Day approaches, Sidgmore stopped just short of telling a crowd at the National Press Club in Washington that the nation's No. 2 long-distance player is too big to fail. The executive promised to continue working with regulators and legislators and anyone else who's interested in determining just how this household name and onetime highflier came to trade at a dime a share.
announced it wanted to
buy several WorldCom units.)
Striking a chin-up pose just a week after disclosing accounting irregularities that still threaten to sink the company, WorldCom said it's hanging on to its lucrative big customers and that financing proposals are on the way. In an admirable show of spirit, the company even said late Tuesday that it will appeal Nasdaq's decision to delist the stock halfway into a year in which it has lost 99% of its value.
"WorldCom intends to make its case heard, and we believe that Nasdaq will see that our company is doing everything in its power to uncover the circumstances of the intended restatement and to make all the appropriate regulatory filings as soon as possible," Sidgmore said in a press release.
Those sentiments notwithstanding, some observers remained skeptical. "He could be a hero if he turns it around," said a hedge fund manager who has no WorldCom holdings. "But he has zero shot."
Lots of Work Ahead
Indeed, Sidgmore appears to have his work cut out for him on many fronts. Seeking to distance himself from fired CFO Scott Sullivan and ousted CEO Bernie Ebbers, Sidgmore emphasized that it was his management team that brought a $3.8 billion accounting debacle to the attention of the
Securities and Exchange Commission
last week. The buck stops here, the CEO fairly proclaimed, saying that WorldCom and its workers have made a mistake or two but the future is now.
Sidgmore said the company has 20 million customers, 60,000 employees and more than $2 billion in cash. WorldCom hasn't lost a single large customer and expects to receive two financing proposals from bankers this week. The potential flight of large customers and the prospect that bankers could force the company into bankruptcy have been perhaps the two biggest worries for WorldCom shareholders this year.
Still, the executive made it clear he understands the gravity of his challenge. When asked if WorldCom could avoid bankruptcy, Sidgmore said: "I'm not going to stand up here and say we aren't going to end up in bankruptcy at some point." Meanwhile,
investors continue to speculate that the company could be on the verge of disclosing further accounting chicanery. A WorldCom representative didn't comment Tuesday on those rumors.
The Balance Sheet
Though Sidgmore claimed to be as surprised as anyone by the accounting revelations, he will surely face a tough crowd during congressional hearings Monday. Elected officials have shown themselves to be increasingly eager to pursue corporate bigshots in a scandal-sodden year on Wall Street.
With some $30 billion in debt outstanding and its profitability in doubt in the wake of the accounting scandal, just a few loans and a few solid relationships aren't going to be enough for WorldCom, investors have said for the last week. Many expect the company to face further setbacks in coming weeks even if it does secure new credit lines. Protection from creditors may be WorldCom's best option at this point, say these investors.
"If he really wants to keep his customers, he should fix the balance sheet," said the hedge fund manager. "And there is really no other way than bankruptcy."