DETROIT -- A few years ago, Noble International Ltd. had big plans. Today it's in Chapter 11 reorganization.
The suburban Detroit supplier of laser-welded steel blanks used in car and truck bodies began a string of acquisitions in 2006 and 2007 to grow and diversify. The company went from revenue of about $447 million in 2006 to $872 million in 2007.
But Noble also took on significant debt. And when the recession hit, the company couldn't recover.
"We thought we were in a position where we had some runway to effectuate a change to our capital structure. We knew we needed to find a solution," CEO Andrew Tavi said. "But because we had limited liquidity going in, coming out of the end of the year ... we needed to do it quicker than some other companies. We just didn't have enough liquidity to last."
Noble lost contracts in 2008 that it had planned to renew. While the company managed by cutting 30 percent of its North American work force, eliminating 401(k) matching, freezing salaries, eliminating bonuses, cutting discretionary spending and ending company travel, it couldn't make up for a drop in volume that worsened in the fourth quarter.
Tavi said Noble was hit by the double-whammy affecting all automotive suppliers: anemic cash flow from poor automotive sales and frozen credit markets making unavailable the cash that normally gets companies through slow periods.
"We had a significant amount of debt, we had some lost contracts, and the markets collapsed, and this was all happening at approximately the same time," he said.
Revenue in 2008 declined to just $375 million from $872 million in 2007. Steel prices had skyrocketed early in the year, driving up costs. And Noble's lenders tightened up, wary of a troubled auto industry marked by supplier distress and automakers facing bankruptcy.
Noble's stock fell from more than $14 per share in January 2008 to about 15 cents last month.