Very few companies emerge from bankruptcy profitable. Even fewer companies remain in bankruptcy and yet continue to be profitable. Such is the tale of W.R. Grace & Co. (NYSE:GRA) The Chapter 11 case of the chemical company deserves a tale of its own, and not just a story. The reason is: the company has been in bankruptcy since April 2001 and is still in bankruptcy after almost 12 years. And the company has been profitable since.
As of Jan. 30, 12:54 P.M.(EST), Grace’s shares of common stock, listed at the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “GRA,” were trading at $71.74 per share, recording a 52-week low of $47.40 per share and a 52-week high of $72.55 per share. The company has said it will release its financial results report for the fourth quarter 2012 period in early February. The company has consistently reported income and positive sales in its financial reports. In fact, the company was solvent when it filed for bankruptcy. The company just needed protection from thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits arising from the operation of its prior businesses, which the company has already divested off.
Asbestos litigation is one of the most popular litigation in the United States. Many companies, including notably Johns Manville, Federal-Mogul, Owens Corning, Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)’s Quigley, despite being solvent, have sought protection from asbestos-related lawsuits, the defense and settlement of which could drain a company’s assets. Grace’s asbestos lawsuits and claims come from, among others, residents in Libby, Montana where W.R. Grace & Co. (NYSE:GRA) operated a vermiculite mine in the 1980s and from its insulation product called Zonolite(R) Attic Insulation. Typical of an asbestos bankruptcy case, there was an trial in Grace’s case that lasted four months that aimed to determine just how much the company owes to asbestos claimsholders. That trial proved difficult as each party-in-interest presented different estimates, ranging from about $1 billion proposed by Grace to around $7 billion proposed by those representing asbestos claimants. That trial ended when Grace reached a settlement to cap the liability at $1.7 billion. In advance of the release of its fourth quarter 2012 financial results, Grace adjusted its asbestos liability at $2.065 billion and will report a $365 million non-cash, pre-tax charge in the fourth quarter of 2012.
A provision under Grace’s plan of reorganization is the creation of an asbestos trust that will distribute payments to asbestos claimants. The reorganization plan is what’s keeping Grace in bankruptcy. The plan has long been confirmed by the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case and affirmed by the district court (as customary in plans with provisions under Sec. 524(g) of the Bankruptcy Code), but the plan has met objections from a group of unsecured creditors and bank lenders, who are opposing interest payments under the plan. The appeals are now pending in the Third Circuit.
W.R. Grace & Co. (NYSE:GRA) remains profitable, not only as a company but also for investors, both stock and distressed-debt investors. From January to December 2012, more than 100 claims filed in the company’s Chapter 11 case totaling $25.8 million were traded.