Stephen Hilbert, chief executive of Conseco Inc., said Wednesday he is so sure his company's stock is undervalued that he would take his bonus for the rest of 1999 in stock valued at $50 a share or market value, whichever is higher.
The stock was at $32 at midday Wednesday. The company pegged his bonus for the last nine months of this year at $10.1 million. Mr. Hilbert said in a phone interview that he is trying to "let everyone know I'm aligned with the shareholders.
"Every quarter we continue to produce the results that we set out for ourselves, and the Street set out, and every quarter we're disappointed" by the performance of the stock, Mr. Hilbert said.
Wall Street is "giving away dollars for 50 cents," he said.
Mr. Hilbert's decision follows this week's disclosure in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that his compensation increased 10% in 1998, as the company's stock dropped more than 30%.
Conseco's stock is off from a 52-week high of $51.875 in July. It began to slide when Conseco said last April it would buy Green Tree Financial Corp., and the Indianapolis financial services firm has still not fully regained investors' confidence, analysts said.
"We totally reinvented the company in April of 1998," Mr. Hilbert said. "When you reinvent your organization it takes time for people to get used to it," he said.
His decision on his compensation got cheers from some observers.
Mr. Hilbert is "putting his money where his mouth is," said analyst Cathy Seifert of Standard & Poor's. "A lot of other companies' stock languishes in the gutter, and their chief executives don't step up to the plate," Ms. Seifert said.
"He takes the company's stock performance personally, as well he should," she went on. Ms. Seifert has a buy rating on the stock, and said she considers it "hideously undervalued."
Also Wednesday, Conseco announced a 38% increase in first-quarter net income, to $297.1 million, and a 31% increase in operating earnings, to $303 million.
Mr. Hilbert said in a written statement that the company was "on track" to reach yearend goals of an 8% increase in insurance collections, a 25% increase in managed receivables, and a return on equity of more than 15%.
The finance unit earned $205.2 million for the three months ended March 31, double the year-earlier figure. Finance receivables were $39.3 billion at quarter's end, up 31%.
Mortgage services volume grew 38%, commercial lending volume was up 29%, and manufactured housing volume increased 17%, Conseco said.
Insurance earnings were up 6% to $362.1 million.