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As Kodak Seeks to Shore Up Financials, Stock Remains Volatile

Eastman Kodak's shares continued to trade with heavy volatility as the imaging company explores ways to shore up its financials.

Kodak's stock has swung wildly in recent sessions amid unusually heavy trading, falling sharply on Friday to well below $1 a share after The Wall Street Journal reported that Kodak had hired Jones Day for restructuring advice.

The company issued a statement after the closing bell that day denying any intention of filing for bankruptcy, pushing shares markedly higher in Monday's session. Tuesday saw another big drop in share price, but by Wednesday morning Kodak's stock was gaining around 9 percent in premarket activity, indicating it could swing back up again once trading resumes for the day. Year-to-date Kodak shares are down around 79 percent.

Kodak has struggled to gain momentum in its digital camera business as its printing business flailed, but its digital-imaging patents could be worth far more than the 131-year-old camera and imaging company itself, fetching as much as $3 billion, according to some analysts. Reports surfaced last month that Kodak was working to sell off its patents.

Commenting on its hiring of Jones Day, Kodak said Friday it is "committed to meeting all of its obligations" and "also continues to actively pursue its previously announced strategy to monetize its digital imaging patent portfolio. Kodak remains focused on meeting its commitments to customers and suppliers, and on delivering on its strategy to become a profitable, sustainable digital company."

"It is not unusual for a company in transformation to explore all options and to engage a variety of outside advisers, including financial and legal advisers," Kodak added.

Jones Day is an adviser on bankruptcy, but also on other paths companies may take to boost their financial positions, including raising new debt or equity, or negotiating swaps of debt forgiveness for ownership stakes. Kodak confirmed it had hired Jones Day, but said it "is one of a number of advisers that Kodak is working with."

On Monday, Kodak said it made a $14 million payment to its bondholders, according to spokesman Chris Veronda. That followed word on Thursday that Fitch Ratings cut its ratings on Kodak to CC from CCC which it said "signifies that default of some kind appears probable."

Earlier last week, Kodak drew $160 million against its credit line saying it was borrowing the funds "for general corporate purposes," according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. With an interest rate of 1.5 percent, Kodak has until 2016 to repay the loan. The drawdown followed Kodak's move in April when it entered into an agreement for a new credit facility of up to $400 million.

Kodak's future

CEO Antonio Perez said in late August that Kodak was in talks with potential buyers, and had signed confidentiality agreements with possible bidders for at least 1,000 Kodak patents. If Kodak is able to sell its patents, and get as much as $3 billion for them, it would buy the company time to give its inkjet printer business a much-needed boost, according to Gimme Credit analyst David Novosel.

Kodak has been putting more of an emphasis on its printer business lately, picking up market share from Hewlett-Packard and Canon along the way, attracting consumers with more printing features and less-expensive ink. Even with a patent sale, Kodak intends to hold onto the licensing rights to its proprietary technology.

Perez is looking for buyers willing to pay cash for the patents, but only wants to sell "the part of the portfolio that does not apply to the core investments and the future of the company."

The marketing of patents is a smart move for Kodak — a company that has struggled after years of annual losses — particularly in light of M&A news last month that Google acquired Motorola Mobility Holdings at a hefty premium, largely for the accumulation of 17,000 technology patents the target holds, as the search giant moved to better compete with Apple's iPhone.

Despite Kodak's $1.2 billion pension shortfall, potential acquirers like Microsoft and Samsung Electronics could benefit greatly from its patents — technologies used in a bulky 85 percent of all digital cameras and smartphones — Rafferty Capital Markets told Bloomberg last month.

Investment bank Lazard began marketing Kodak's roster of patents in August, and interested parties included a large wireless provider, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal.

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