`Overweight' Union Carbide `Waking Up,' Analysts Say
Peter S. Hawes, Ap, THE JOURNAL RECORD
In a series of moves in recent weeks, the nation's third largest chemical company has started to trim some fat from its multibillion-dollar operation.
Its bylaws and pension plan have been modified and its corporate structure simplified, and, by early next year, about 4,000 white-collar workers with hefty paychecks and a number of non-strategic businesses will be shed.
Carbide said it hopes to save $250 million, or an average of $62,500 in salary and benefits per employee. It is hoping to raise $500 million through divestitures.
Plans also call for $500 million to be taken from an employee pension plan to buy back up to 10 million shares of stock.
Finally, an unprecedented $990 million charge will be taken against 1985 earnings, and depreciation periods will be shortened. The charge, which the company said would reduce after-tax 1985 earnings by $8 per share, is believed to be the largest in the chemical industry's history.
""This is a short-term program,'' Carbide Chairman Warren M. Anderson said. If the moves do not achieve the company's goal of increased profitability in 1986, he said, ""We'll cut some more.''
Since the seven-point program aimed at improving Carbide's financial position and attractiveness to investors was announced on Aug. 28, the company has repeatedly said it was part of a continuing restructuring begun in the mid-1970s.
Analysts, however, note that at no time in Union Carbide's history have such dramatic moves come in such rapid succession.
""Anyone who believes this is part of something that began 10 years ago probably believes in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, too,'' said Paul T. Leming, an analyst at Kidder Peabody & Co.
Nevertheless, he and others on Wall Street welcomed the actions as addressing problems at Carbide that some believe have their roots in the 1970s.
Singled out most frequently by analysts as poor decisions by the company are the 1978 sale of Carbide's former New York City corporate skyscraper during a weak city real estate market, its reluctance to halt capital spending in the early 1980s, and a heavy reliance on the struggling U.S. steel industry to support its once highly profitable metals and carbons segment.
""They have been very slow to react to the fact that their businesses were in terrible shape. The company's been asleep. The fat had built up in this company over a number of years,'' said Leslie C. Ravitz of Solomon Brothers.
""Do these steps solve all of the company's problems?'' he asked. ""No, but it certainly enhances the outlook for 1986.''
Most analysts believe the recent moves are unquestionably a response to toxic gas leaks that have thrust the normally low-profile company into the international spotlight, eroding its stock price along with public confidence in its ability to operate safely and profitably.
On Dec. 3, 1984, a chemical leak from a Union Carbide factory killed about 2,000 people in Bhopal, India. A little more than eight months later, on Aug. 11, another leak injured 135 people in Institute, W.Va. Smaller leaks also have been reported at the company's West Virginia plants.
On top of the leaks, GAF Corp. surfaced with a potential takeover threat in August.
Publicly, Union Carbide has said the accidents and GAF's accumulation of Carbide stock have played no role in the retrenchment. However, in a recent videotaped message to Carbide employees, Anderson warned that ""there are outsiders whose stock in trade is imposing change on companies lacking the will or desire to move boldly on their own. …