Place Your Bets on Ambac Financial!

Sometimes, changes in the way somebody says something can be so subtle that you barely pick up on them. But noting those changes is a pretty big deal when a company starts saying, "Look, we're about ready to pull the plug."

Yesterday, Ambac Financial (NYSE: ABK  ) released its 10-Q filing and its quarterly earnings report. Neither was pretty. We already knew that Ambac was in terrible shape, and we couldn't help noticing the company's massive shareholder deficit. So what's new? It's all in how the company is talking about its future.

When Ambac released its 10-Q in March, it noted:

Ambac may consider, among other things, a negotiated restructuring of its outstanding debt through a prepackaged bankruptcy proceeding or may seek bankruptcy protection without agreement concerning a plan of reorganization with major creditor groups. [emphasis mine]

In the filing released yesterday, though, the phrasing was a bit more dire:

Ambac is currently pursuing raising additional capital and is also pursuing a restructuring of its outstanding debt through a prepackaged bankruptcy proceeding.

So what was possibly a consideration last quarter is an active pursuit this time. Management remains unconvinced that either of those options will work out. If they don't, good ol' Chapter 11 is still on the table.

Of course, if bankruptcy is the end result, it doesn't matter for equity holders whether it's comes in the prepackaged or Chapter 11 variety. Either way, they'll likely end up with bupkis. And unfortunately, it's looking more and more like individual investors will be left holding the bag on this one.

As of the most recent filings, less than a third of the outstanding stock is held by institutions, while roughly 67% rests in the hands of individuals. Sure, there are a few institutions -- Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , Blackrock (NYSE: BLK  ) , and Och-Ziff (NYSE: OZM  ) , for instance -- that still have a stake. But compared to the 80%-plus of MBIA's (NYSE: MBI  ) stock owned by institutions, that percentage looks pretty piddling. It would appear that most big money managers see the big "B" coming around the bend.

That said, Ambac shares aren't completely worthless. Right now, they're a betting slip representing the small chance that the company is able to avoid bankruptcy.

Thanks to a tarnished image and low marks from ratings agencies, it's unlikely that Ambac will ever be the same company again, even if it does avoid bankruptcy. But hey, if you've got a gambling streak and you want to hit the public markets instead of the horse track, Ambac awaits.

Not interested in gambling with your investment assets? Why not try looking for the kind of stocks that Warren Buffett likes?

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool or on his RSS feed. The Fool's disclosure policy assures you that no Wookiees were harmed in the making of this article.


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