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Photo pioneer Kodak files for bankruptcy
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Jan 19, 2012

Century-old photography pioneer Eastman Kodak, which brought photography to the masses, filed for bankruptcy early Thursday, succumbing to a 15 year digital assault by rivals.

The company hopes that seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection will give it time to reorganize its businesses -- and possibly sell off its valuable patent portfolio -- to avoid being shut down entirely.

"The Board of Directors and the entire senior management team unanimously believe that this is a necessary step and the right thing to do for the future of Kodak," CEO Antonio Perez said in a statement.

"Our goal is to maximize value for stakeholders, including our employees, retirees, creditors, and pension trustees. We are also committed to working with our valued customers," he added.

The company said it had sufficient liquidity to continue operating normally and paying employees during the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. Its foreign subsidiaries were not subject to the proceedings, it added.

The company will keep operating with the aid of a $950 million credit facility from Citigroup, aiming to emerge in a more competitive position during 2013.

But the bankruptcy placed the jobs of Kodak's 19,000 remaining employees in question.

Once part of the 30 Dow Jones blue chips of the New York Stock Exchange, Kodak's shares were suspended on Thursday and the NYSE said it would be delisted in view of the bankruptcy filing.

Kodak shares had traded below $1.00 since early December amid speculation over a possible bankruptcy filing.

The Rochester, New York-based company, started in 1892, led the way in popularizing the cameras, film, slide projectors and home videos that preserved the memories of generations of Americans and others around the world.

At its height in the 1980s, it had 145,000 workers. But it has struggled in the age of digital cameras, and years of poor performance had already forced it to lay off 47,000 employees and close 13 manufacturing plants and some 130 processing labs since 2003.

"Now we must complete the transformation by further addressing our cost structure and effectively monetizing non-core IP (intellectual property) assets," Perez said.

"We look forward to working with our stakeholders to emerge a lean, world-class, digital imaging and materials science company."

The company has sought for months to avoid entering a Chapter 11 reorganization by selling off some of its valuable library of patents.

But that strategy failed, with analysts saying potential buyers saw a possibility of getting hold of Kodak's intellectual property at cheaper prices after it went bankrupt.

Kodak's books have been awash with red ink for years. The last time it reported a net profit was a small gain in 2007.

Officially established by inventor George Eastman in 1892, Kodak developed handheld "Brownie" cameras that were sold at popular prices and furnished the film that would keep consumers pumping profits into the company for decades.

Three generations of Americans and many in other countries learned to snap their own pictures with Brownies, at a time when the company was lauded as one of the top US innovators -- the Apple or Google of its time.

And "Kodak Moment" -- the company's advertising catchphrase for its film -- has been embedded deep in the US vernacular.

NASA lunar orbiters in the 1960s brought back some of the earliest images of the moon's surface on Kodak film, and the first astronauts to walk on the moon documented their historic expedition with a shoe box-sized Kodak camera.

Kodak also furnished the film for countless Hollywood movies, including 80 Oscar-winning "Best Pictures," according to the firm's website, which said it had won nine Academy Awards of its own for scientific and technical excellence.

In its heyday Kodak shares topped $80 in 1996 -- just at the outset of the digital photo revolution that eventually freed consumers from the need to buy Kodak film, once a virtual monopoly in the US market.

The company pioneered research into digital photography beginning in the mid-1970s. But it was Asian manufacturers that stole a march in that market in the 1990s as Kodak failed to see the need to break from its old business lines.

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New York (AFP) Jan 19, 2012
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