No matter how sad the forecast, the year’s results for a few large America companies, the conditions of competition in their markets and the malaise that has draped much of economy makes it almost certain that they will fail, and fail soon. Most of these have been in a state of financial trouble for a several of quarters or ever years, and they have come to the limit of their options.
First among these is Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD), a company that was once a viable competitor to its larger rival Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC). It was even “helped” by Intel when it got a windfall of more than a billion dollars as part of an antitrust settlement because of the larger firm’s anticompetitive practices. But that money only helped AMD a little. It provided no assistance in staving off the drop in PC sales, and the company’s lack of products for the new and rapidly growing tablet and smartphone markets that have taken the personal computing industry by storm. AMD’s share price was above $8 last April. It has languished near $2 for the past month.
It has become commonplace to beat on J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) because its sales have been down 20% year-over-year in recent quarters. Analysts blame new CEO Ron Johnson, who joined from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL). He has changed the way J.C. Penney offers discounts and markets inventory. It is naive to view him as the sole cause of the disintegration of the retailer. Competition for firms with clever managements like Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) have made a contribution to J.C. Penney’s collapse. And the e-commerce success trend, best represented by Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), has ruined a number of companies. At the top of that list are Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) and Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE: BKS). J.C. Penney cannot be expected to be among the small group of retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) that to some extent have beaten back that trend. J.C. Penney’s most likely future is as part of another retail company that could use more distribution and could cut J.C. Penney’s costs to the bone. Sears Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ: SHLD) is one of the public companies would be at the top of that list.
The fast-food industry has become one of the most competitive in the United States, with market leaders McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) and Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM) in the lead. Even these historically successful companies have been pinched by the economy. That puts smaller rivals in a difficult spot. They have fewer restaurants and extremely modest marketing budgets. The weakest among these is Wendy’s Co. (NASDAQ: WEN). Like J.C. Penney, it needs to find a buyer to salvage whatever it can for stockholders. Burger King Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: BKW) and Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE: DRI) need to expand to remain competitive with McDonald’s. Wendy’s would give either one a much larger distribution network.
No matter how good the economy, some set of companies is always in the process of failing. A tough year probably has lengthened that list and made a turnaround at the many of the weakest firms less likely.
Douglas A. McIntyre