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Sunday, Jan 29, 2023

Disappearing Acts

Disappearing Acts

A year ago, when the Business Journal compiled a list of public companies that could be vulnerable to continued weakness in the economy, it was clear that some firms wouldn’t be able to hold on.

Of the 86 companies on last year’s list that met at least one of five criteria (a stock price $1 or lower, a loss in the most recent 12 month cycle, a projected loss in 2002, a debt to equity ratio of 200 percent or greater and an average Wall Street analysts’ recommendations of “hold” or “sell”) 19 are gone, either because of a bankruptcy filing or because their shares are no longer traded on a major exchange.

On the bright side, a dozen left the list because they have stabilized. Fifty-five made return appearances.

Among those getting hit during the year was Careside Inc., a Culver City-based manufacturer of blood testing equipment that was put on last year’s list because of continuing losses. A 1996 spin off of SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline), Careside raised $15 million in a 1999 initial public offering, but continued to bleed cash without ever generating significant revenues. The company burned through an additional $25 million it raised through private placements after the IPO, but announced it would run out of money in the first quarter of 2002. Careside filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October.

Things have been better for J2 Global Communications Inc., which last year was widely regarded as just another Internet firm waiting to die. “When we had our quarterly conference call, you could hear the crickets in the background,” Scott Jarus, J2’s president, told the Business Journal in October.

J2 Global provides its customers with a service linking phone, fax, e-mail and voice mail, dubbed “unified messaging.” The company made last year’s list because it had a trailing 12-month loss, but it has since rebounded, reporting net income of $3.9 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $1.5 million in the like year-earlier period. Shares were trading in the $23-range last week, up from around $4 during the first week of December 2001.

SeeBeyond Technology Corp., a Monrovia software company also on last year’s list because of a trailing 12-month loss, continued to lose money in 2002. Wall Street has projected losses would continue, and earlier this year the company restated already worse-than-expected first quarter results because its auditors considered it improper to recognize revenues not yet collected.

A spokesman said the company was on a path to break even by the third quarter of 2003.

The firm reported a net loss of $8.2 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $7.5 million for the like period a year ago. Third quarter revenues were $35.7 million, vs. $43.1 million a year earlier.

International Aircraft Investors, a Torrance-based aircraft leasing firm, started looking for a buyer in March 2001, but postponed plans after the Sept. 11 attacks. The company, which was on last year’s list because of its high debt-to-equity ratio, saw the price of its stock fall precipitously after Sept. 11 and has never recovered. Late last month, it announced it was being acquired by Jetscape Aviation Group Inc., which is privately held and based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for $1.45 a share or $5.2 million.

Guess Inc. made the 2001 list because analysts had rated the stock a sell a rare event. The jeans maker returns to the list this year because analysts still have a consensus-sell rating and the company has a trailing 12-month loss.

Conor Dougherty

List Methodology

To find companies that could be vulnerable to continuing weakness in the economy, the Business Journal established five criteria, each providing a different window into a company’s performance and its outlook. By themselves, none of the factors is necessarily indicative of a company’s future performance. Investors should read the data in conjunction with research from a broad range of sources.

-Average Wall Street analysts’ rating of “hold” or “sell” Despite changes over the past year, analysts’ ratings still contain a positive bias. Companies rated “hold” (often a code-word for “sell”) or below are not regarded as good investment choices by the professionals who follow the companies and their industries.

-Stock price at or below $1 Nasdaq-listed companies whose stocks trade below $1 face possible delisting. From there, they often wind up on the “pink sheets.”

-Projected loss in next fiscal year Ongoing losses can aggravate an already poor outlook. (For most companies, the next fiscal year is calendar 2003.)

-Debt-equity ratio of 200 percent or higher Debt includes current and long-term debt. Common shareholder equity is the value of the assets that would land in the hands of shareholders in a liquidation, after debt is subtracted. High debt levels generally indicate vulnerability to a business slowdown.

-Loss in trailing 12 months The company has lost money over the most recently reported 12-month cycle.


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