Conseco Inc.'s chief executive was in New York on Wednesday reassuring investors that the worst is over now that his company has taken a half- billion-dollar writedown in connection with the purchase of Green Tree Financial Corp.
The "surprises ... are going to be on the positive side, not the negative one," said Stephen Hilbert. The Carmel, Ind., company's stock has been battered since its April 6 announcement that it planned to pay a hefty premium for Green Tree, a manufactured-housing lender that suffered from accounting problems.
The insurance giant's stock slid from a 52-week high of $57.75 the day before the acquisition announcement, to $43.187 on June 16. When the deal closed June 30, Conseco said it would take a $498 million writedown, in part because of a revaluation of Green Tree.
But now that the company has taken its "dose of salt," it is ready to show real revenue, Mr. Hilbert said. Mr. Hilbert predicts "solid numbers" in the third and fourth quarters, with the stock "closer to $70 than $50" by yearend.
Companies are increasingly taking such charges when they make acquisitions, said Yun Jae Chung, a banking analyst at Bessemer Trust Co., New York, who criticized the companies for destroying shareholder value. "Sometimes it's one to two times what they expect the cost savings to be," she said.
Mr. Hilbert said he delayed announcing the charge because he needed to do a full analysis of the loans before announcing the charge.
"If we had written down the assets the day of the announcement, this would have been old news," Mr. Hilbert said. Other lenders, like Household International Inc. and First Union Corp., are also taking large charges in association with finance company acquisitions, he added.
And some analysts defended the charge. "In light of where interest rates have gone after their announcement, it does not strike Moody's as being unusual," said Patrick Finnigan, an analyst with Moody's Investors Services, New York.
The acquisition, which is expected to be accretive scared some investors, and the writedown barely moved Conseco's stock. "Maybe I'm jaded, but the investment community thinks it's great," said Ms. Chung.
Some recovery had been made since the June 16 low, despite rumors of the pending writedown. The day the writedown was announced, Conseco closed down at $46.875. On Wednesday, the stock closed at $50.75.
Analysts, though, have mixed feelings about how solid earnings will be, especially in the long term. Earnings estimates for yearend 1999 range from $3.79 to $4.25, a more than 10% difference.
The Standard & Poor's bank index was up 2.75%, and the Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.99%. The Nasdaq bank index was up 0.58%, and the S&P 500 rose 1.01%.
Shares of Citicorp shot up 7.09%, to $171.875, continuing to climb on positive reports by banking analysts. The latest, by Judah Kraushar of Merrill Lynch & Co., said the merger this month with Travelers Group will create an institution with "unparalleled business diversification."
Travelers rose 7.26%, to $69.25.