HOUSTON – Halliburton Co. shares slumped to a 15-year low on Friday but regained some ground after the oilfield services and construction giant said it had no plans to file for bankruptcy because of asbestos liability problems.
Dallas-based Halliburton's stock was the most actively traded issue on the New York Stock Exchange, closing 69 cents, or 6.3 percent lower, at $10.22.
"There is no basis to the spurious rumor that (Halliburton) has filed for bankruptcy, or that such a filing is contemplated," the company said in a statement.
Earlier on Friday the shares were down more than $2 in a second straight day of heavy losses as concerns resurfaced about the company's asbestos liabilities after recent damages awards against Halliburton totaling more than $150 million.
Halliburton's shares touched an intraday low of $8.75 per share, the lowest level they have reached since August 1986, before the company's statement sparked a recovery.
"Halliburton is a stock that most investors don't want to own at this point because of the asbestos risk," said Lehman Brothers analyst James Crandell.
Analysts said there was no apparent trigger for renewed weakness in Halliburton's stock, other than lingering concerns about asbestos litigation after last month's disclosure of damages awards that were much greater than in previous cases.
Halliburton, headed by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney until August 2000, said it had fallen victim to baseless rumors that another big damages award against the company was about to be announced and that it might even be forced into bankruptcy.
"We can't even pinpoint the source of some of these rumors ... It's chat-room type stuff," Vice President of Investor Relations Cedric Burgher told Reuters.
Contributors to a Halliburton message board on the popular Yahoo Finance Web site have recently drawn parallels between Halliburton and energy trading giant Enron Corp., which filed for bankruptcy protection last month.
Halliburton executives have rejected parallels with Enron, insisting their company is well insured against asbestos claims and expressing confidence that the recent big damages awards against it will be overturned on appeal.
News of those awards, in cases that went to trial in Texas, Mississippi and Maryland, triggered a fall of 40 percent in Halliburton's stock price on Dec. 7.
Halliburton's stock price subsequently stabilized in a $12 to $13 range, but the company failed to participate in a December rally that brought gains for most other oilfield service stocks.
Stock Seen Facing Tough Hurdle
Analysts said this appeared to have persuaded investors that Halliburton's share price was unlikely to recover much in the foreseeable future.
"Some people have concluded that the stock is not going to do well in the near term and have resumed selling," said Crandell.
Larry Tedeschi, an energy analyst with One Group Mutual Funds of Columbus, Ohio, said the One Group funds liquidated their holdings of Halliburton stock a couple of years ago when Halliburton started disclosing its asbestos exposure.
"If you look around and see all the companies that have had any ties to asbestos, it usually has a pretty bad ending. We took the attitude that it wasn't so unique that you had to own it in the face of that, so we've pretty much sidestepped it," he said.
Asbestos was once widely used as a fireproofing and insulation material and in asbestos-cement products, but scientists concluded in the 1960s and 1970s that inhalation of asbestos fibers could cause diseases including lung cancer.
Asbestos litigation has led several major U.S. companies to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the last few years, including specialty chemicals company W.R. Grace & Co. and building materials maker USG Corp.
Before the big-money jury awards disclosed in December, Halliburton said it had succeeded in settling or litigating almost 200,000 asbestos claims at an average cost of less than $200 per claim.
The company has said it will be involved in several more asbestos trials in the coming months but has not yet disclosed the venues or dates.