Enron: A Bankruptcy

©2002 J. Lee Lehman

It is very tempting to apply some sort of editorial statement as part of the title, like “A Study in Corporate Greed.” But let’s not kid ourselves. Enron is merely one of the more flagrant cases, not necessarily the worst. Enron is simply: The Company That Got Caught.


As astrologers, what can we learn from this case? The first thing we have to remember is that corporations are not biological entities: once they are born, they buy other companies, sell off pieces, acquire other pieces, and either add new or shut down old product lines. From an astrological standpoint, each of these events can be represented as a chart. So then what is the chart of a company?

In Enron’s case, we begin in 1930 with the formation of the Northern Natural Gas Company (NNGC) by three small utility companies for the purpose of piping natural gas north from Kansas to Nebraska. Thus, we see that the nature of the company at the beginning was supplying energy between neighboring states via a conduit system.i As is not uncommon in the USA, the incorporation of NNGC occurred in Delaware, a state which has long had very advantageous tax and filing laws for corporations. Let us examine this first chart.

There are three strongly dignified planets: Venus, Mars and Saturn. Saturn’s dignity is somewhat compromised, since Saturn is also retrograde, which weakens the strength of its placement in its own sign. Notice that Venus and Mars rule the 3rd-9th House axis. Normally, we wouldn’t be commenting upon this, but NNGC was formed to connect neighboring states – definitely a 3rd House function. So we would be tempted to conclude that they would do a good job at this.

The reason that I said we would be tempted to conclude that they would do a good job, rather than saying that they would, is that the partile Mercury-Venus conjunction is also conjunct the fixed star Algol. Algol is the Head of the Medusa in the constellation of Perseus – it has one of the most baleful interpretations of any fixed star. The traditional association with Algol is beheading. My interpretation of Algol is this: we all make bad decisions from time to time. With Algol in tropical Taurus, the problem is that the person stays with a bad decision long after it’s seen clearly as ill-advised, inappropriate, or wrong. But this raises yet one more point concerning fixed star interpretation: for the scenario to unfold, the Native has to be in a position to err in a big way. Which means that the fixed stars are often associated with prominence before a fall.

This Venus conjunct Algol rules both the 3rd and the 10th – and Venus strong in its own sign is posited in the 10th as well. Thus, the mistaken approach is all too likely to come from the person in charge – the 10th House Corporate Executive Officer, or owner, in a corporate chart.

Before we dwell on this item too long, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the company that NNGC became lasted for seventy years before getting into serious trouble. For much of that time, it was a highly successful company, only laying the seeds for its destruction in the late 1980’s.

Several other factors are worth noticing in the chart before we proceed to other events. Neptune has been assigned as the ruler of oil by modern astrologers; the ancient ruler would be the Moon, as the ruler of all liquids. Neptune in the 1st House trine the Sun seems absolutely appropriate for a company involved with this commodity. The Moon in Pisces (in participating Triplicity) in a sextile to Venus, Ruler of the 10th, is not a bad signature either. Of considerable interest is that the Moon is conjunct the fixed star Scheat, which is a “shipwreck” star. We shall see this fixed star become prominent as we proceed with our story. For now, we have a corporation with some well-dignified planets, but some danger signals.

Time passed. NNGC grew, diversified, and was renamed InterNorth. In 1985, InterNorth acquired Houston Natural Gas Corporation, as well with its subsidiaries, which included Houston Natural Gas Oil Company.

Texas has been a major producing state for oil and natural gas in the USA. While oil was known in Texas since early in the 20th Century, full development had to wait until 1953, when the federal government sorted out issues regarding land ownership and development rights. Astrologically, this was marked by the Saturn-Neptune conjunction in Libra. A large number of Texas oil companies started at that time.

Northern

One of these companies was Houston Natural Gas Production Company, founded February 24, 1953.ii This company was founded to acquire and develop oil and natural gas properties. It was a child of Houston Natural Gas Company. Its chart, set for Austin, Texas, is quite revealing.

Of course, the whole signature of the Saturn-Neptune conjunction in this chart is the definition of real estate with regard to oil production. Neptune is conjunct the fixed star Spica, the most fortunate star in the Heavens. Saturn rules the Midheaven, and is exalted: strong benefit from real estate deals. Interestingly, exaltations in general have a story involving benefit by others’ largesse; in this case, it was federal government rulings which benefited the oil companies. Mercury in Pisces would at first seem unfortunate as a chart ruler, but the Mercury is rendered by the Moon, which is in the 2nd House. Mercury also rules the 5th House, which might seem irrelevant to a company chart, but in this case is highly specific; drilling for oil is nothing less than a gamble. Sometimes it pays off big; often, it’s a dry well. HNGPC’s first well was dry. Because of the speculative nature of drilling, we must put the activity in the 5th House – and so an Ascendant ruler also ruling the 5th is highly descriptive, as is the Saturn-Neptune conjunction in the 5th House, conjunct the Part of Fortune, no less! The highly dignified Moon in the 2nd in aspect to the Ruler of the 5th brings the profit from the 5th to the 2nd – a very beneficial aspect.

Before we consider the 1985 acquisition chart, we should note that InterNorth was the larger partner in this merger. Kenneth Lay was the Chairman of the smaller Houston Natural Gas, but despite this, he shortly became Chairman of the merged larger entity, and moved InterNorth’s headquarters from the Midwest to Texas. Lay is credited with changing InterNorth’s name to Enron in 1986.

Houston

Here in the merger chart we have dignified Mercury ruling both 1st and 10th House. As in the original InterNorth chart, Venus is again the Ruler of the 2nd house, dignified in Taurus. However, there is not the emphasis on speculation that we saw with the HNGPC chart – now the Ruler of the 2nd is in the 8th (other people’s money and debt) and the Ruler of the 5th is peregrine and retrograde! In fact, as early as 1987, Enron moved its production and exploration divisions into Enron Oil and Gas Company, which was eventually spun off from Enron Corporation. This corporation, now known as EOG Resources, Inc., was completely independent by 1999, and was unaffected by the bankruptcy of Enron. While it took some time for the company to become independent, EOG was first traded on the NYSE on October 4, 1989.iii

We do have a chart for the changeover to “independence” for EOG Resources: August 16, 1999. The announcement was for the end of a changeover in shares, which occurred at the end of trading on that particular day. For that reason, this chart is done for 4:00 pm EDT in New York, as it involved the end of trading.iv

What immediately strikes one about the chart is how little it is related to the prior charts, the closest resemblance being to HNGPC. That similarity would make sense, as one could make a case for HNGPC being the grandparent of EOG, from the standpoint of actual business activity. But what is different about EOG is the heavy emphasis on succedent houses and fixed signs.

In classical astrology, the mark of an emperor, which is just another way of saying a prominent and powerful person, is an emphasis on angular houses and masculine signs. With this amount of succedent emphasis, this chart does not represent an entity which will tend to be a news magnet. It is a company that goes about its business without much fanfare. Succedent placements are considered weakly accidentally dignified. The Ruler of the 2nd is in the 5th, while the Almuten of the 2nd House is Mars in Scorpio, one of the two powerfully dignified planets in this chart. The other highly dignified planet is the Sun, the Almuten of the 4th, which surely can refer to the property resources that an oil company acquires. Neptune in the 2nd House makes sense for an oil company, as does Uranus, given the erratic nature of drilling for oil. What is interesting about Venus, Ruler of the 10th, retrograde and at 29 degrees is that the changeover in ownership was immediately followed by a changeover in the personnel at the top of the company.

It would seem strange on the surface that Enron would split off its division which represented the supply chain for its pipeline system. There are two considerations that make this understandable. The first is that the pipeline system in 1992 accounted for 80% of Enron’s revenues, so production was never the major player anyway. The second concerned a major regulatory shift which occurred under the first Bush Administration.

In late 1992, Enron and several other corporations asked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to exempt energy futures trading from government oversight. The decision was reached to do this in the weeks between the 1992 election and the beginning of President Clinton’s term of office. The Chair of the CFTC at that time was Wendy Gramm, a Reagan staffer, and wife of Senator Phil Gramm of Texas.v The result of this deregulation was that within ten years, 80% of Enron’s income came from energy and other futures trading. We know now that this changeover was the result of Jeffrey Skilling’s vision of the energy futures market, combined with Andrew Fastow’s utilization of “special purpose entities,” which effectively hid Enron’s debts from investors, giving it a much more attractive image than it would have merited had its true financial condition been known.

Lay was evidently seen – both within the company and without – as the grand “old” man: the CEO with the generous touch.vi We see the generosity through Venus in Pisces, exalted, ruling the Ascendant. We see his drive to do something new – definitely not a normal characteristic of the oil industry – through his New Moon in Aries, with that exalted Sun ruling the Descendant, and the Moon ruling the M.C.

If we examine Lay’s chart compared to the merger chart, we begin to see how it is that this man, who was head of the smaller of the two corporations, could find himself top dog in the not too distant future. Lay’s Sun-Mercury was sextile the merge Sun; and his Mars-Jupiter was conjunct that Sun. Here is a man with deep connections to this merger chart. Notice also the Saturn-Uranus of Lay’s chart is conjunct the critical Mercury-Venus conjunction in InterNorth’s chart. Notice that both InterNorth’s and the merger’s Venuses are in dignified Taurus – a nice sextile to Lay’s exalted Venus. Lay appears to represent a charismatic embodiment of InterNorth’s leadership (i.e., 10th House).

And for a time period, he was. Enron’s ENE stock stayed mostly below 7 from 1984 until May of 1991. The US began bombing Iraq in January 1991, so the subsequent run up presumably represented in part uncertainty concerning foreign markets. By the 1992 election (which Clinton won from Bush), share price had increased to 12. A dip after Clinton’s election would be understandable: after all, anyone would assume he would be less sensitive to the oil industry than Bush, and his pro-environmental stand could have been harmful. But other than a minor plateau effect right around the time of the election, ENE increased during the first few months of the Clinton Administration, achieving 15 by March 1993. ENE increased 50% in 1993 (although it dipped back by the end of the year), was essentially unchanged in 1994, increased 30% in 1995, increased 16% in 1996, dropped 10% in 1997, increased 42% in 1998, increased 57% in 1999 (with a 2:1 split on August 16th). In 2000, the share price began at 40, and ended near 82.5, for an increase of 206%! All of 2001 actually represented a drop in share price, with the steep decline in the Autumn, leading to a share price as I am writing this of 0.67. The major day price drop occurred on November 28th, 2001, just before the bankruptcy was filed.

We have an exact time for the bankruptcy filing, thanks to some clever sleuthing.vii When we examine the bankruptcy chart, it’s important that we first understand what the filing of “Chapter 11” actually means, so that we know the best way to evaluate the chart. The type of bankruptcy filing that Enron filed is to permit the corporation protection from creditors in order to allow the company to reorganize itself with the goal to returning to profitability. Only a few weeks after the Enron filing, KMart, the third largest general retail chain in the USA also filed for Chapter 11 – in their case, the reorganization will probably involve closing a certain number of their less profitable stores.

In Enron’s case, the filing also marked the beginning of the release of corporate financial data that, at the very least, suggests that the company deliberately created a series of other companies in order to conceal losses, thus allowing the stock to remain higher than it would have were the true financial condition of the company known.

When we examine the bankruptcy filing chart, one of the first things we notice is that fixed signs are on all four angles. This is significant. The purpose of a bankruptcy is to allow reorganization, but fixed signs oppose any change. If that impression needs any confirmation, Mars, Ruler of the Ascendant, is in a fixed sign. Mars has dignity only by Term, which is considered a minor dignity: the dignity by Term allows Enron to appear to be in better condition than it actually is.

There are more components of this bankruptcy, however, than just the quality of the angles. Let’s consider some of the most important points:

There are three void of course planets in this chart, an unusually high number. The Moon is Void of Course at 29 Gemini. Venus is Void of Course at 29 Scorpio in the sign of her Detriment. And Mars is Void of Course, if we don’t allow the Moon to change signs twice to reach the opposition.

Taken together, these two factors point to the difficulty of change in a chart representing an event that by its very nature is supposed to effect change. When the nature of the chart resists the nature of the event, there is a real problem with the outcome of the event!

So what happened to Enron, other than a good case of karma catching up? The original Northern Natural Gas Company chart shows part of the story, with Midheaven Ruler Venus hit by the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction of 2000. Notice that this conjunction occurred in the middle of the largest run-up in share price that Enron ever experienced. What’s worth contemplating here is that this conjunction occurred with Jupiter peregrine, and Saturn having dignity only by Term. In classical astrology, a major conjunction is rated in part by how dignified each of the conjoining planets is. The last Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in Libra featured two strong planets. Here we have weak and weaker. What this implies is that the 1980 conjunction presaged good effects from both Jupiter and Saturn; in the current cycle both will promise more than they deliver.

Here, the implication from the InterNorth chart is clear: management may benefit through the immediate impact of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, but they better be clean, or the effects of Algol will shortly become apparent!

While the InterNorth chart was being hit by the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, the old Houston Natural Gas Production Company chart was afflicted by Saturn. Transiting Saturn for the bankruptcy was partile conjunct the Ascendant! The InterNorth-HNG Merger chart was being impacted by transiting Pluto conjunct Uranus and transiting Uranus square Saturn. Notice that EOG Resources was not being hit by the Outer Planets, and they were free of the whole Enron mess by this time.

In addition to the immediate transits, Northern Natural Gas Company in 2001 was 71 years old; it was in a 12th House profectional year. Beyond just the very nature of a 12th House year, in the chart, Pluto is right on the Ascendant for the year, the 12th House cusp – and this was being affected by “too much of a good thing” Jupiter. So this would surely represent danger. Houston Natural Gas Production Company had just turned 48; it was in a 1st House profectional year, and we have already seen that Saturn was sitting on that Ascendant. The InterNorth-HNG merger chart was 16 years old: it was in a 5th House profectional year, and we have seen 5th House profectional chart Ruler Saturn was afflicted by Uranus. Furthermore, Kenneth Lay is in a 12th House profectional year, with Saturn partile square his 12th House cusp and profectional Ascendant at the time of the bankruptcy filing!

Thus, all of the significant charts that we could easily use for Enron show afflictions by Outer Planets in the year 2001. Does this necessitate bankruptcy? I would say that it doesn’t, provided that the company involved is prepared to survive reverses and scrutiny. That was Enron’s problem: it was a house of cards waiting to be knocked over.

Vocabulary Terms

Almuten: Each of the five essential dignities were assigned points – 5 for Sign, 4 for Exaltation, 3 for Triplicity, 2 for Term, and 1 for Face. The Almuten was the planet that had the highest number of points in that zodiacal degree. It was used as an alternate House ruler or dispositor.

Participating Triplicity: there are three types of Triplicity rulers, where the Triplicity dignity refers to the element of the planet or cusp in question. Participating is the Ruler which is not specific to Day or Night, and was generally judged as weaker than the Day or Night Ruler. In horary, it seems to be totally useless.

Peregrine means lacking all five essential dignities. It’s linguistic root is the same as “pilgrim,” and that explains its meaning. It vacillates, and is considered weak. Virtually all charts contain peregrine planets, and these are the planets that the Native has to “learn” to use.

Profection is a system of examining the chart using 1 year of life = 1 house. Thus, years 0, 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, and 72 are 1st House years, years 1, 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, and 73 are 2nd House years, etc. While this does not appear in the classical literature, each year seems to have some of the flavor of that house, and it is interpreted by using that house cusp as the Ascendant, as in using the 2nd House cusp as the Ascendant in a 2nd House profectional year, etc.

Rendering is said to occur when a planet that is debilitated by either combustion or retrogradation is in aspect to one of its dispositors, and that dispositor is dignified. The rendered planet, which is the debilitated one, benefits from the dignity of its dispositor, and so loses some of the effect of its debility.

i While not relevant to this story, it’s worth mentioning that there was a considerable environmental scandal involved with natural gas that is not generally known nowadays in the USA. Prior to the 1930’s many farms were largely energy independent for such things as pumping water and irrigation as a result of the use of windmills and watermills. During the Depression, a number of natural gas companies (including NNGC) got together and created a network of natural gas pipelines. However, their work (and profits) would have been for naught had it not been for government regulation effectively destroying the self-sufficiency of the farmers, so that they would become natural gas consumers.

iv The Oil Daily, August 17, 1999 v49 i157

vi Source is birth certificate in hand Judy Johns: see full source listing at http://www.astrodatabank.com/NM/LayKenneth.htm

vii From the Astro-Life group on Yahoo: donnalyn27 obtained the time that the Enron bankruptcy was filed. The bankruptcy petition for Enron Corp. was filed electronically at 4:56 a.m. EST on December 2, 2001 in New York, NY. It actually was the second of several related filings. The first occurred at 4:28 a.m. But the 4:56 a.m. filing was for the main company, and is the case number that all the filings are being administered under.

“I obtained this information by talking to the paralegal at the law firm that filed the cases. She was able to obtain the times from the records in her computer.”