Commercial Federal Corp. said Tuesday that it will take pretax charges of $105 million to $125 million in the third quarter because of a major restructuring.
The $13.8 billion-asset Omaha company said it will shed more than $2 billion of assets, including low-yield, high-risk investments and residential mortgage loans. It also said it would pay off high-cost borrowings.
During a conference call with analysts and investors, chairman and chief executive officer William A. Fitzgerald also hinted at an upcoming middle-management restructuring. He did not elaborate on how many jobs might be trimmed.
Commercial Federal is the fourth-largest thrift in the Midwest. Analysts said it has struggled with high expenses as it worked through six acquisitions over the last two years. Much of that dealmaking time was spent without a chief financial officer at the company. More recently, it has been without a chief operating officer.
And like many other banking and thrift companies, Commercial Federal has been feeling the pinch of rising interest rates on its profits from lending activities. Yesterday, it reported that profits from operations declined 14%, to $103.3 million in the first five months of the year.
A year ago the company was under intense pressure from Franklin Mutual Advisers Inc. - its largest institutional investor - to sell the company. Franklin, which holds about 7.6% of the company's stock, argued for a sale before the company lost more value.
During the conference call, Raymond Garea, an executive vice president with Franklin Mutual, questioned Mr. Fitzgerald about his performance.
"I wonder whether the board has specifically evaluated the performance of the CEO and whether to retain him?" Mr. Garea asked.
"The board has supported the initiative we're going forward with," Mr. Fitzgerald responded.
The CEO and Mr. Garea were not available for further comment.
The restructuring is just part of a plan to improve profitability. Commercial Federal also said it plans to repurchase up to 10%, or 5.5 million shares, of its stock. It will sell its leasing business resulting, in a $7 million charge, and it will dispose of certain real estate holdings, resulting in another $6 million charge.
"It is now essential that we evaluate every facet of the company's business and move decisively to create a more efficient, competitive, and profitable regional financial services franchise," Mr. Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Although one analyst said he agreed with the company's moves announced Tuesday, he said questions still remain about its financial health.
"I think it's a positive development that they're doing it, but I wonder if they're doing enough," said Joseph Roberto, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. "I'm still a little skeptical of management's motives here. Time will tell if this is going to work or not."