Saturday, December 29, 2007

Crystal Clear

For years, Waterford Wedgwood's fortunes have been in decline. Recently, the famed crystal maker announced further cuts in payroll and explained that some manufacturing would be moved to countries where labor costs were cheaper. Made in Ireland could consist of someone in Waterford polishing up a goblet that was made in Slovenia.

The firm lost EU29 million in six months time, which doesn't have the ring of a going concern. Half of the workers in Waterford have been made redundant in a bid to cut expenses and salvage the luxury goods maker.

Lazard Alternative Investments LLC must have liked the sound of all that reducing because they have snapped up five million cumulative convertible preference shares and placed two of their own on Waterford Wedgwood's board. That's one hundred million euros of desperately needed cash for crystal, but what's in it for Lazard?

A firm that hemorrhages cash does not seem like a good investment, yet they've invested. Lazard must believe that there is yet a market for fancy glassware and vases, which would sell like mad if only the goods were less costly.

With trends moving away from formal and into casual, will brides ever again register for Wedgwood china? Or will the products be made more cheaply and marketed en masse, with advertising geared to the masses? Dine like the Queen of England in your double wide trailer...sip your barrel wash wine from Waterford crystal....

Or will Lazard tart up the place and then sell it off in bits, to wring a little blood out of the Waterford Wedgwood turnip? Are we witnessing the resurrection of a dying brand or the last gasps before the final exit?

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