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WorldCom to nix tracking stocks

Tue, 05/21/2002 - 8:00pm
Susan Rush

WorldCom Inc. has been plagued by a slowdown in consumer spending, a lagging long-distance market and questions from the Securities and Exchange Commission about some of its accounting practices. But the company finally gave investors something to smile about after it announced plans to eliminate its tracking stock structure.

The move, which is John Sidgmore's first as WorldCom's head honcho, will enable WorldCom to save $284 million a year. On July 12, WorldCom will nix the MCI group tracking stock, which was created last year to separate its consumer business from the WorldCom Group division. "By eliminating our tracking stocks we will build on our cash position and simplify our corporate structure," said Sidgmore in a statement.

Each outstanding MCI share will be converted to 1.3594 shares of WorldCom Group common stock. Fractional shares will be paid in cash. As of the conversion date, dividends on shares of MCI group common stock will cease to be paid. However, holders of record of MCI group common stock at the close of business on June 30 will be paid the previously declared dividend of 60 cents per share, payable July 15.

At the end of April, WorldCom's front man Bernard Ebbers stepped down. Sidgmore replaced Ebbers as president and CEO.

WorldCom is under pressure to perform in the midst of a slowdown in sales. The company's fourth-quarter profits dipped from $585 million, or 20 cents a share in Q4 2000 to $384 million, or 13 cents a share in Q4 2001. In April, Moody's Investors Service cut its WorldCom Group's credit rating by two notches. Moody's rates WorldCom at Baa2. Although the company remains above "junk" status, the ratings firm said it might cut again. The WorldCom tracking stock recently was removed from the Standard and Poor's 500 index.

The company is negotiating with its banks to secure $5 billion in new funding.

As of 11:49 a.m. EDT, WorldCom's shares were up 14 cents, nearly 10 percent, to $1.56. The value of WorldCom's stock plummeted 90 percent this year.

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