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Lucent Technologies (news/quote), the once-mighty telecommunications equipment giant, announced a large loss yesterday and as many as 20,000 additional job cuts, continuing a dizzying downward spiral that will leave the company with far fewer than half the workers it employed only a year ago.
The new cutbacks, along with some 75,000 Lucent jobs that are already being eliminated through layoffs, early retirement or corporate spinoffs, rank among the largest and fastest in the history of big American corporations. Lucent's work force ?155,000 employees a year ago ?will total about 60,000 when the latest round of layoffs is completed in the next several months.
And even with the drastic measures announced yesterday, which included plans to take a charge against earnings of as much as $9 billion this quarter to cover job cuts and investment losses, some analysts say there is no certainty that Lucent can find a way back to profitability.
The company also said yesterday that it lost $3.25 billion, or 95 cents a share, in its fiscal third quarter ended June 30, compared with a loss of $301 million, or 9 cents a share, in the period a year earlier.
And hoping to ride out its financial storm, Lucent said it would delay by six months the planned spinoff of Agere Systems (news/quote), its chip-making business, that had originally been planned in September.
Lucent's plummet from a corporation at the pinnacle of the late 90's telecommunications boom to one struggling to stay in business, is a textbook example of what can happen when a market bubble bursts. With its stock a Wall Street highflier, largely because of a remarkable record of revenue and earnings growth, Lucent eventually got into trouble trying to maintain those kinds of financial figures ?sticking too long with aging products, extending loans to risky customers and at times letting its accounting standards lapse.
Its shares, which reached a high of $77.78 in December 1999, fell $1.47 yesterday to $6.43 ?only slightly above the company's split-adjusted stock price when it went public in 1996 after having been spun off from AT&T. The stock, according to Merrill Lynch (news/quote), is among the nation's most widely held, behind only Cisco Systems (news/quote), General Electric (news/quote) and Microsoft (news/quote).
Despite some analysts' skepticism, Lucent's chief executive, Henry B. Schacht, promised in an interview yesterday that the company would recover. "We will emerge from this restructuring leaner, quicker and more focused," said Mr. Schacht, who came out of retirement to return as Lucent's chief last October, when the extent of the company's problems became evident.
As part of its salvage operations, Lucent said it would ask its bank lenders to modify a credit plan that it renegotiated with the banks in February. Lucent must seek the banks' permission to take the $9 billion write-down announced yesterday, and an executive at one of the lenders predicted that the banks would go along with the plan.
"The banks are going to look at this and say the company is doing exactly the right things," the executive said.
Even if Lucent emerges from its crisis, the company, a descendant of the telecommunications empire formed by Alexander Graham Bell 132 years ago, will be a shadow of its former self. It will concentrate on selling switches, wireless network equipment and other relatively staid communications products to large phone companies. Eventually gone, through sale or spinoff, will be divisions that produced fiber optic components, semiconductor chips and office phone systems.
The company is seeking to reduce its size, complexity and the cost of doing business. Rather than chasing the business of start-up companies, as it did during the telecommunications boom, Lucent plans to focus on customers that have emerged from economic turmoil without significant damage ?big providers like Verizon Communications (news/quote) and SBC Communications (news/quote). To do so, Lucent is reorganizing itself into two units, wireless and wire line, to concentrate on those two primary pieces of the telecommunications market.
As for the lost jobs, Lucent said yesterday that about one-third of the 20,000 newly announced cuts would be made overseas, with the remaining two-thirds in this country.
The company is based in Murray Hill, N.J., and New Jersey is expected to be particularly hard hit, though Lucent said it had not yet decided precisely which jobs to cut where.
Lucent's job reductions are deeper than any at a major corporation since announcements of 40,000 job cuts by AT&T (news/quote) in 1996; 50,000 by Sears, Roebuck and 63,000 by I.B.M. (news/quote) in 1993, and 74,000 by General Motors (news/quote) in 1991, according to John Challenger, chief executive of the outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Included in the Lucent work force reduction are about 40,000 employees who have been laid off already, accepted early retirement offers or are awaiting notification that they will lose their jobs in the round of cuts announced yesterday. The rest are employees no longer at Lucent or at companies like Agere and Avaya Inc. (news/quote), divisions that Lucent decided to spin off, or workers at units either sold to other companies or awaiting sale.
"The job cuts are staggering," said Lewis Siegel, senior economist in charge of the mass-layoffs division at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Forty thousand people ?that's more than the population of a lot of small towns."
Although Lucent's sales declined 21 percent in the most recent quarter from the period a year earlier, revenue did not significantly decrease from the previous quarter, suggesting that sales erosion had stabilized. The company has used $2.3 billion from a $4 billion credit line provided by the banks earlier this year, but its cash-burn rate slowed in the recent period, to $500 million from $1.9 billion in the previous quarter.
As part of its efforts to raise cash, Lucent said that it reached an agreement yesterday to sell its fiber optics business for $2.75 billion to Furukawa, a big Japanese industrial and electronics concern, and Corning Inc. (news/quote), the maker of fiber optic material based in Corning, N.Y. Lucent also said that it would sell or lease manufacturing plants in Oklahoma City and Columbus, Ohio, to Celestica (news/quote), an electronics company, for $550 million to $650 million.
The decision to delay the spinoff of Agere Systems was made because Lucent does not expect to complete the sale of its fiber optics business in time to meet conditions required by its creditors.
According to terms agreed with the creditors, Lucent had to raise $2 billion in cash by September to allow the Agere spinoff to proceed.
One securities trader said yesterday he was confident that Lucent could indeed arrange new terms with the banks.
"People are confident that they have liquidity," he said. But he also predicted that Lucent would end up paying higher interest rates. "The banks will demand their pound of flesh," the trader said.
The company's woes were not lost on employees at headquarters in Murray Hill yesterday.
"Nothing has been said by management and we are reading these reports, so morale and work motivation is extremely low," said a 28- year-old male employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are all in a period of limbo and want to know if we'll be here next week or unemployed."
But a female employee, who said that her job was not at risk, was more sanguine.
"It's necessary for the company at this time," she said. "We need to streamline and make Lucent more profitable, so while we'll miss a lot of people, the cutbacks are necessary for the future."
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