Losses, Debt, Bankruptcy

An ongoing irritation for me in reading coverage of companies that give up the ghost or might is that reporters, even business reporters, confuse several concepts around bankruptcy, investment, and losses, such as this report on Salon.com.If a company has $100 million invested in it and spends it all, it does not have $100 million in debt. If a company spends $100 million it does not have $100 million in losses. Money that's spent out of investment doesn't count against anything but cash on hand or other financial instruments. Actual debt is what's owed to creditors or is in the accounts payable stream. Losses aren't just money that's spent, but a track using generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) (for SEC filings) or other methods that calculate the difference between revenue and expenditures accounting for goodwill and one-time expenses, such as what it will cost to lay people off. Many dotcoms suffered huge GAAP losses because of extraordinary one-time expenses that were non-cash expenses: they didn't run out of money, but they looked terrible on paper because that expressed the future viability of the company. When MobileStar went into bankruptcy in late 2001 -- this is the outfit that originally equipped Starbucks with Wi-Fi -- reporters kept saying that they had huge amounts of debt. The debt wasn't huge, from what I can tell; the loss of investment was, possibly $80 million or more. T-Mobile (Voicestream) bought MobileStar's assets out of bankruptcy for $4 million (including a $1.5M bridge loan while in bankruptcy), and it is continually reported that T-Mobile bought MobileStar. They didn't. Salon.com has suffered largely at the hands of this kind of reporting. Although their financial future is not assured, getting 62,000 subscribers and lopping $600,000 per year off their rent (forfeiting some money they couldn't get access to, anyway) is a substantial achievement. The fact that they've spent a lot of money doesn't mean they owe a lot of money, nor does their lifetime losses to date necessarily reflect on the viability of the organization. Salon should probably run some articles on how to report on financial statements. But would any of these reporters read them?