The Bankruptcy Maelstrom

A rising tide of deadbeats threatens to overwhelm even healthy companies

It takes a lot to scare Robert J. Lovejoy. The 63-year-old owner of Cleveland's Lovejoy Steel Co. has been in the steel business for four decades and he has seen his share of ups and downs. But these days, Lovejoy is downright spooked. With steel prices near a 20-year low, the automobile industry in decline, and once-reliable customers missing payments, profits at the 90-person company have been steadily eroding. So far, Lovejoy has held on by cutting his workforce 10% and adding some new product lines. But others haven't been so lucky. Over the past several months alone, he has seen more than 10 steel companies file for bankruptcy. "It's the worst I've seen," Lovejoy says.

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