Broken Glass

Is Waterford Wedgwood luxury, or "masstige"? Either way, it’s bust. Its $625 million in debt is essentially worthless, it’s been losing money before interest payments for a couple of years now, and its prospects, as we enter another grim year for the retail market, have never been poorer.

My guess is that someone, somewhere, will pick up the iconic brands — Waterford, Wedgwood, Rosenthal, Royal Doulton — for a song, while laying off substantially all of the manufacturing capacity and laying plans to start over from scratch if and when the market in such things improves. While the receivers are looking to sell the business as a going concern, I can’t imagine that anybody has much appetite right now to buy a money pit with little prospect of turning profitable in the foreseeable future.

Ireland will probably end up losing a national icon — and it won’t be the last big brand to fall prey to the current economic crisis. During boom years, investors love storied brands like Waterford and Wedgwood. In bad times, they start to concentrate more on the P&L. These days, if all you’ve got going for you is a long history and a high degree of brand recognition, you’re in trouble, because those things simply can’t be monetized any more.

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