International Harvester Co. has widened the forecast of its loss for the year from $1 billion to as much as $1.6 billion, rekindling speculation that the troubled company might be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy again after it seemed to be stabilizing somewhat during the past couple of months.
The maker of farm equipment and trucks denied yesterday that it was considering filing for protection under federal bankruptcy laws, but analysts warned that the company might be heading for insolvency as mounting losses erode its financial position. A bankruptcy of Chicago-based Harvester probably would be the largest in U.S. history.
Last July, in its last prediction of losses for the year ended Oct. 31, Harvester forecast a maximum deficit of $1 billion. But the company now says it will lose between $1.5 billion and $1.6 billion for the year, in part because of a large loss related to the planned sale of its construction equipment division. In addition, analysts say that markets for virtually all of Harvester's products are severely depressed, with the demand for some tractor models off 50 percent from industry highs of three years ago.
Harvester is negotiating with its bankers on the third version of a financial restructuring plan to give the company a more solid underpinning. The revisions in the bailout plan have been made necessary by the company's worsening financial situation, and the most recent proposal would convert huge amounts of the company's debt into stock held by its bankers.
A year ago, the disclosure that the company's losses were going to be much larger than had been anticipating torpedoed the first version of the bailout on the eve of its completion.
Although one analyst suggested the new loss figures are "scare tactics" designed to sway bankers into giving the required unanimous approval to the bailout, others see the prediction as an indication that wrapping up the restructuring will be more difficult than expected earlier.
"The restructuring process is beginning to crumble a little bit as the numbers really aren't falling into place," said George Dahlman, an analyst at Piper Jaffray & Hopwood in Minneapolis. "Everything that needed to fall into place really isn't doing so, and everything is so fragile that we could see more problems than we have seen in the past."
Analysts warned that the losses are bringing Harvester closer to bankruptcy because the deficits are eating away the amount of stockholders' equity in the company.
In its July report, Harvester had predicted its shareholders' equity on Oct. 31 would be between $500 million and $600 million, compared with $856 million on July 31 and $1.48 billion at the end of the last fiscal year.
Analysts say increased losses could wipe out equity, a situation in which companies usually file for bankruptcy protection. A creditor also could force the company into involuntary bankruptcy.
"They'll operate with little book equity at all," said one analyst.