One word: Plastics

May 24, 2007, 11:03 PM UTC
Fortune

It’s taken me 15 years to get comfortable with that joke. In my second job out of college I was the Washington correspondent for a fine trade publication called Plastics News. I joined shortly after the weekly started, and it’s still alive and thriving. It was my crash course in business journalism as well as my introduction to lobbying and policy issues. At the time the plastics industry was frantically trying to avoid regulation by promoting recycling. All the major producers and users like Dow (DOW), DuPont (DD), Procter & Gamble (PG) and McDonald’s (MCD) were involved in the debates. I wrote about garbage long before Marc Gunther got interested.

Anyway, I’m ruminating on this now because plastics are as relevant as ever, even if General Electric (GE) is getting out of the business it pioneered. GE, in fact, scored a victory by selling the unit for $11.6 billion, far more than the $8 billion or so Wall Street had originally expected. The buyer is the Saudi company Sabic. An interesting side note is that GE early on said it wouldn’t entertain offers from “clubs” of private equity firms. In the end, a buyout fund didn’t get the prize. The New York Times published some interesting history about the unit, which dates to 1930. I’d forgotten that Jack Welch and Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s previous and current CEOs, worked at the plastics division.

Elsewhere this week, investment firms Cerberus and Oaktree Capital (each is in the news themselves for other reasons recently — click on the links) sold their investment in Formica, the historic laminate company that I frankly didn’t know still existed.

That’s the thing about plastic: It just doesn’t go away.