Eastman Kodak Co shares lost two-thirds of their value on Friday as the company hired a restructuring advisory firm, triggering speculation that the photography pioneer was about to file for bankruptcy.
Kodak, which delivered the first consumer camera in 1888, denied it had a bankruptcy plan, saying it was committed to meeting its obligations and is still looking for ways to monetize its patent portfolio.
The company, whose name was once synonymous with photography, has struggled with the move to digital cameras and has not made a profit since 2007.
Rochester, New York-based Kodak has been exploring a sale of its technology patents. But some investors are wary of making a bid because they could risk being pursued by Kodak creditors in the event the company files for bankruptcy, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
Bloomberg also said that Kodak was weighing options including bankruptcy, citing unnamed people with knowledge of the process.
Kodak confirmed that it has hired advisory firm Jones Day but did not explain why, beyond saying it was not unusual for a company in transformation to explore all options.
Kodak lost 57 percent of its market value this week as its capitalization plunged to close to $200 million from $468.2 million at the start of the week. Investors were spooked when the company tapped a credit line but refused to divulge its cash position.
One analyst said the company urgently needs to reach a deal to sell the assets.
I don't believe bankruptcy is inevitable. This is a pretty valuable portfolio, they should get a good price, said Mark Kaufman, analyst at Rafferty Capital Markets. They need to get this (sale) out of the way. They need to sell this portfolio, raise some type of cash.
The company said in July it had hired Lazard to advise on strategic options for its patents, which have increasingly been perceived as a lucrative area. Bankrupt Canadian company Nortel fetched $4.5 billion in a patent sale in June and Google Inc agreed in August to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion primarily for its patent portfolio.
Kodak stock fell as much as 68 percent to 54 cents a share on Friday before recovering slightly to close at 78 cents, down 54 percent on the day.
Investors have voiced displeasure with Kodak's top management. One shareholder asked the company's board on Thursday to start a sales process while others said they were unhappy with Chief Executive Antonio Perez.
The company's board is not considering replacing Perez at this time, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, which cited two people familiar with the matter.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew, Paul Thomasch and Phil Wahba; editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Matthew Lewis)