PWC CEO sees write-downs at non-financial US firms

NEW YORK, Feb 6 (Reuters) - The chief executive of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers [PWC.UL] expects more non-financial U.S. companies to report write-downs linked to the credit crisis, showing the problem has the potential to infect a wide swath of corporate America.

“It’s not just in banks,” Chief Executive Samuel DiPiazza told reporters late on Tuesday. “These securities sit in cash equivalent accounts of industrials; they sit in investment portfolios of pensions.”

“We are having to deal with this with thousands of companies, not just a handful of big banks,” he said, and added that a “first wave” of write-downs was likely in the current audit cycle this quarter.

U.S. financial services companies such as Citigroup Inc C.N and Merrill Lynch & Co MER.N have already reported tens of billions of dollars of write-downs for complex debt that has become illiquid, often because it is made of risky mortgages.

But DiPiazza said non-financial companies are also exposed to the credit crunch through securities in their own investment portfolios.

Last month Bristol-Myers Squibb Co BMY.N became among the first companies outside the financial sector to disclose its exposure to the world-wide credit crisis. The drugmaker reported a quarterly loss due to special charges, including a $275 million write-down from securities that had subprime mortgages as a component.

Over the last few months, other non-financial companies such as networking-equipment maker Ciena Corp CIEN.O and software company Lawson Software Inc LWSN.O have also reported write-downs related to the credit crunch and the housing sector meltdown. But the amount reported by Bristol Myers-Squibb was at the high end.

DiPiazza declined to comment on how big he thought such write-downs would be, saying it varies with companies.

“I will not underestimate the challenge we have working through a lot of complex securities and getting them valued,” he said. “We have to ask the question, what’s under the surface.” (Editing by Tomasz Janowski)