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WSJ Comments On Idearc Bankruptcy & Verizon Culpability

Verizon & Involvement in Fairpoint Communications & Idearc Bankruptcy FilingsA few days ago, the Wall Street Journal’s Dennis Berman commented in his column entitled “The Two Sides of Verizon’s Deal Making” on whether Verizon might have some responsibility for the bankruptcies of Idearc, Hawaiian Telecom and FairPoint Communications. As you may recall, I posted an op-ed piece on the subject, Idearc’s Bankruptcy – Who’s Really Responsible? at Search Engine Land not long back, and now Berman’s take on the issue appears to hold a lot of sympathy for my position that Verizon caused the yellow pages company to fail shortly after it was spun off by requiring it to do so with an unreasonably high debt load.

Berman states that while the market in 2006 may’ve allowed Verizon to take billions in the deal divesting itself of its directories corporation, Idearc, he further states:

“It took too much.”

Will there be any consequences for Verizon’s throwing off these companies with unserviceably high debt loads? Burman reports:

“These things matter greatly to how state and federal regulators perceive the company. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii each are in an uproar over the FairPoint divestiture, with much of the ire directed at Verizon.”

In a brief video piece, David Berman debates the issue with Evan Newmark, who takes the opposite viewpoint that Verizon should not be held responsible for the performance of its divested companies. (more…)

Is Verizon Responsible for Idearc’s Bankruptcy?

Idearc's Bankruptcy Caused by Verizon?My op-ed piece, “Idearc’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Who’s Really Responsible?” published today on Search Engine Land, and in it I put forth my position that Verizon is responsible for spinning off the company with an unreasonably huge debt load, and the people ultimately paying the bill are the stockholders.

I describe in the article how Verizon spun off Idearc Media (division which publishes print phone books and operates Superpages.com among other online yellow pages), and set that company up to pay back some billions of dollars for its worth. Verizon then turned around and resold those debt instruments to other companies, fully divesting itself of ownership in the new, standalone company.

This sequence in of itself isn’t remarkable – it’s the normal process a company might go through when spinning-off part of itself to form a new company.

But, my contention is that it was done so in a highly irresponsible manner. Verizon had to know beforehand that print directory business was going into shrinkage mode, and that the debt repayment structure would simply be too much for the new company to be reasonably expected to be able to handle. If so, then this could be expected to be a form of fraudulent conveyance, and Verizon could be culpable.

Is my contention outrageous?

Well, even Idearc’s Chief Executive, Scott Klein, has been paraphrased by the Wall Street Journal as saying “Everyone was aware that ‘$9 billion was really more debt than this business could bear'”. So, Idearc was spun off with a majority of this debt from Verizon from the start – clearly set up to fail.

So far, I’ve seen maybe three different law firms filing class-action lawsuits against Idearc and its executives, based on the premise that the stock tanked due to them secretly changing policies, resulting in inflated-looking sales on the books for businesses with higher likelihoods of not paying for contracted advertising. But, I think the real culprit in all this is likely Verizon – they pushed off a part of the company with an untenable debt load, in large part to pay off debts incurred by Verizon FiOS (Verizon’s fiber optic network) expansion.

leptin

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