Feeling greatly depressed?

February 23, 2009

It’s 10K week here at footnoted which means lots and lots of filings. And one of the themes we’re finding pretty interesting is the number of companies that seem to be mentioning the Great Depression in their filings. So much so that we’re tempted to pop a Xanax (or two).

Take Caterpillar, which filed its 10K Friday afternoon, noting that “Throughout our 83-year history Caterpillar has successfully managed through the Great Depression, several recessions, a world war and numerous other adversities. We’re a strong company with a management team that’s been through tough times before.” That same day, in the 6K that it filed, Prudential (PUK) also mentioned the Great Depression.

So we decided to go back and take a closer look and it turns out that a growing number of companies are mentioning the Great Depression in their filings: 76 times for the year ended Feb. 20, 2009 compared with just 13 times a year earlier. And almost all of those references were historical in nature, as opposed to talking about the current state of the economy. So far in February, 14 companies have mentioned the Great Depression in their filings compared with just 3 in February 2008.

But here’s another interesting tidbit: the only company last year that began talking about the Great Depression in a non-historical way was Indymac, which folded last summer under the weight of too many subprime loans. In this 8K filed last Feb. 12, Indymac noted that “The 4th quarter of 2007 marked the eighth quarter of the current housing downturn (as measured by housing’s contribution to GDP), making it already the fourth worst housing downturn in modern times, and many now predict that, before it turns around, it is going to be the longest and deepest since the Great Depression.”

At the time, Indymac’s warning seemed a bit cataclysmic. But given how many other companies have jumped on the Great Depression bandwagon, it’s seeming a bit prescient.

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