Ten companies with at least $100 million in assets filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month - the most since April when 17 such companies filed. So far in October five more big companies have filed, including Friendly Ice Cream Corp. and Open Range Communications Inc.
They join a list this year that includes Borders Group Inc. (PINK: BGPIQ), paper manufacturer NewPage Corp., skin-cream maker Graceway Pharmaceuticals and the notorious solar panel manufacturer Solyndra Inc.
In fact, 2011 has been the worst year for corporate bankruptcies since 2009, when the financial crisis touched off by the Lehman Brothers' collapse caused a record number of filings.
"It's getting busier for everyone I know," Jay Goffman, co-head of the Global Restructuring Group at law firm Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, told Reuters. "I think 2012 will be a busy year and 2013 and 2014 will be extraordinarily busy years in restructuring."
With many companies already struggling and experts warning that the U.S. economy is headed for another recession, odds are that the pace of corporate bankruptcies will accelerate.
Of course, when a publicly traded company goes bankrupt, the stock becomes essentially worthless, with bondholders and other creditors splitting up whatever is left of the company.
That's what happened to shareholders of General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) when it declared bankruptcy in 2009. The old stock lost all value, while the reborn GM held an initial public offering (IPO) for a new stock trading with the former symbol.
While the mess angered those left holding old GM stock, that's one of the risks of buying equities. You don't want to be an investor who holds on to a dying company too long, or worse, buys a company expecting a turnaround that instead turns south.
So as an investor it behooves you know which companies are endangered. And while there may still be time for these companies to change course, right now they're on the road to bankruptcy.