The cloudy afternoon mirrored the mood of the conference of division managers. Claude Meyer, assistant to the controller for Hunt Manufacturing, wore one of the gloomy faces that were just emerging from the conference room. “Wow, I knew it was bad, but not that bad,” Claude thought to himself. “I don’t look forward to sharing those numbers with shareholder.”
The numbers he discussed with himself were fourth-quarter losses which more than offset the profits of the first three quarters. Everyone had known for some time that poor sales forecasts and production delays had wreaked havoc on the bottom line, but most were caught off guard by the severity of the damage.
Later that night he sat alone in his office, scanning and rescanning the preliminary financial statements on his computer monitor. Suddenly his mood had brightened. “ This may work,” he said aloud, though no one could hear. Fifteen minutes later he congratulated himself, “Yes!”
The next day he eagerly explained his plan to Susan Barr, controller of Hunt for the last six years. The plan involved $300 million in convertible bonds issued three years earlier.
Meyer: By swapping stock for the bonds, we can eliminate a substantial liability from the balance sheet, wipe out most of our interest expense, and reduce our loss. In fact, the book value of the bonds is significantly more than market value of the stock we’d issue. I think we can produce a profit.
Barr: But Claude, our bondholders are not inclined to convert the bonds.
Mayer: Right. But the bonds are callable. As of this year, we can call the bonds at all call premium of 1%. Given the choice of accepting that redemption price or converting to stock, they’ll all convert. We won’t have to pay a cent. And, since no cash will be paid, we won’t pay taxes either.
Do you perceive an ethical dilemma? What would be the impact of following up on Claude’s plan? Who would benefit? Who would be injured?