Worldcom's Bloody $20B Writedown

WorldCom Inc. may take as much as a $20 billion writedown after posting earnings that dropped 64 percent in the fourth quarter. 

On Wall Street, the telephone and data services company dismissed Enron-like rumors of accounting problems and potential bankruptcy. 

Though the company cut its growth outlook for 2002, the reduced forecasts were not as bad as expected. 

The writedown is expected to be between $15 billion and $20 billion in goodwill, meaning the difference between purchase price of the asset and its book value. Nearly $1 billion of that will be charged to MCI Group. 

At day's end, the stock rose after WorldCom Chief Executive Bernie Ebbers assured that the phone company had $10 billion in available funds. He also said the company would be able to repay a $199 million loan, and the company won't need to sell shares to cover it. 

WorldCom Group shares climbed $1.01 to $7.70 after moving as high as $8. The stock has fallen from a high of $62 in 1999, dropping nearly $100 billion in market value. MCI Group dropped $1.49, or 16 percent, to $7.57. 

Net income fell for the company to $258 million from $725 million a year earlier. Sales fell 11.5 percent to $8.5 billion. 

"I don't think they're in imminent danger of going bankrupt," said Henry Asher, president of money manager North Star Group. "On the other hand, the markets are skittish, and with Moody's placing them on review, at some point, they're going to have to pay back that $30 billion." 

WorldCom debt was cut $1 billion to $24.7 billion in the fourth quarter. 

Competition from other long-distance companies, such as AT&T Corp. and Sprint, as well as mobile phone services and e-mails, caused sales for WorldCom products and MCI Group to slump. 

"Do I think that WorldCom will be around five or 10 years from now? No," said Asher. "It probably splits into pieces, and someone will have to figure out what is it worth to have a run-off asset."