The Asbestos Monster that Almost Ate Halliburton

Call this one “Darth Cheney’s Revenge.” Before 2001, most people had probably never heard of Halliburton. Dick Cheney was the name of the sitting Vice President, but beyond that, few people outside of Wyoming knew much about him or his history. With an average approval rating of 26% among conservatives and as low as 13% among the rest, Dick Cheney may very well be the most disliked Vice President in American history. Meanwhile, the company of which he was once CEO and from which he continued to receive “deferred” compensation even after taking public office–Halliburton–is one of the wealthiest, thanks to its White House connections and lucrative “no-bid” contracts in connection with the current occupation of Iraq. It’s hard to believe that this company was once nearly eaten alive… by the Asbestos Monster. At its height around 1998, Halliburton stock was around $45 per share. Dick Cheney was responsible for the corporation’s acquisition of a subsidiary, Dresser Industries’ Harbison-Walker Division.

Harbison Walker was the marketing company for many asbestos products. For someone who appears to consider business and profits very important, one must question Cheney’s judgment in these corporate takeovers. How could he not have known that Dresser Industries had pending lawsuits against it, and, by acquiring this company, Halliburton would wind up acquiring its liabilities as well? Nonetheless, the deals went through, and as a result in 2001, the price of Halliburton stock tumbled from $45 a share to $12 when Harbison-Walker was found liable in four asbestos cases in which the court awarded plaintiffs a total of $152 million. Of course, Halliburton management blamed it all on the “runaway juries.” By then, however, Cheney had gone on to bigger, if not better things. The rest of the story is fairly well known: the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq and the “no-bid” contracts awarded many corporations–including Halliburton whose stock price has recovered quite nicely, currently hovering around $41 a share.