Despite recent overtures by several potential buyers, company officials said yesterday that Kemper Securities Inc., the retail brokerage unit of Kemper Corp., is not for sale.
The officials, including Stephen B. Timbers, president and chief operating officer of Kemper Corp., and James Borris, chairman and chief executive officer of Kemper Securities, made the announcement yesterday morning over the squawk box that connects Kemper's offices around the country, according to employees in the securities unit.
"Kemper Securities has made considerable progress in improving its operating performance," David B. Mathis, chairman and chief executive officer of Kemper Corp., said during the conference call, according to a press release.
"We are committed to Kemper Securities, its management team, and their business plans." Mathis said.
Kemper executives declined to comment beyond what was stated in the release, according to Janice Kalmar, a Kemper Corp. spokeswoman.
The announcement comes less than one month after Kemper Corp. officials confirmed - after months of silence - that they were reviewing a number of offers to purchase the brokerage operations.
Rumored prospective buyers for the company had been Paine-Webber Inc. and Dean Witter Reynolds. At one time, Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. had been considered another likely suitor. However, Smith Barney officials quickly denied interest in Kemper and later purchased Lehman Brothers' retail brokerage operation.
However, "we never said we were going to sell Kemper Securities," Kalmar, the spokeswoman, said Wednesday. "We had a responsibility our shareholders to review those offers, but we never went as far as to make a decision about what we were going to do with Kemper."
Regarding the review of the offers, Timbers said in the press release, "The offers simply didn't reflect the value inherent in this company and its long-term prospects."
Timbers also cited the brokerage firm's improved results in the first-quarter of 1993, when it earned $6.9 million, more than double the $3 million in the year-ago period. The earnings figures exclude accounting charges, Kalmar said.
Earlier this month, a source at Kemper said the corporation only announced the offers of interest because Kemper Financial Services dented a report in USA Today that it would be sold. But the Kemper money management arm did not address speculation in the news article that Kemper Securities would be sold and this forced the company to comment on the prospective purchase.
In the press release, Mathis said management is working on a program to offer employees the opportunity of "equity participation in the newly positioned brokerage operations."
One public finance employee said there was talk of introducing a profit sharing or stock option program for employees. However, Kalmar said no further information was available on the employee ownership proposal.
Some Kemper employees are breathing a sigh of relief that the company is not for sale. Of Kemper Securities' approximately 4,000 employees, about 140 work in the municipal securities area, sources said. The firm has more than 1,400 retail brokers.
"Rumors have been floating around for a year or two now," said one Kemper employee in Chicago. "It's nice that it's over with."
Some Kemper Securities employees said the announcement sounded like a long-term commitment to the securities business on the part of the corporation.
Following the announcement on May 27 of offers to buy the company, "there was a hell of a lot of anxiety." a Kemper public finance official said.
"I am very encouraged and the people in the most profitable public finance office of Kemper are very encouraged," said Richard Allen, managing director of Kemper's Michigan public finance operation. "We're happy with the statements that were made and we're looking forward to another great year."
But some public finance executives remain skeptical about Kemper's long-term commitment to the securities unit.
"To me it's not a true commitment; it's a commitment of necessity," one source familiar with the company said.
"Everybody knows that it's for sale and that's why there was so much interest in buying it. And if they got a good offer, they'd sell it tomorrow.
Kemper's stock closed at 33 3/8 yesterday, down 1/8 point, after trading as high as 34 1/2 during the session.
"All in all it was pretty neutral," Keith M. Buckley, a vice president and equity research analyst at Duff & Phelps Corp., said of the no-sale announcement.
"I think the market's seeing both sides," Buckley said. In addition, the market may have anticipated that the sale would not go through since no news immediately followed the May 27 announcement of offers.
Buckley said that Kemper Corp. must still work to make the brokerage unit more profitable, but if that occurs, it would strengthen the parent company's other operating units.