A two-year rearrangement of business lines by United Cos. finally appears to be paying off for shareholders.
On Monday, after William Blair & Co. initiated coverage with a "buy" rating, shares jumped 13% to a high of $36 on volume 20-times the daily average, before closing at $35.75. The price was $36.25 at midday Wednesday.
"We kept blocking and tackling, and sooner or later the investors had to take notice," said John D. Dienes, the president and chief operating officer of the Baton Rouge company, which specializes in loans to consumers with less-than-perfect credit.
Mr. Dienes said the company has focused on expanding some business lines while eliminating unprofitable lines.
The company's first step in focusing on home equity lending was to cast off its underperforming title and life insurance divisions. The sales of both are expected to close within 60 days, Mr. Dienes said.
"It's a good company that's becoming a great company," said Joseph LaManna, the William Blair analyst.
High on his list of smart moves for United Cos. is its entry into the manufactured-housing lending market.
The company began making loans to buyers of mobile and prefabricated homes in the last quarter of 1995, and Mr. LaManna estimates that these loans will amount to $250 million in 1997, or nearly 10% of total loan volume.
For United Cos., manufactured housing is a perfect fit, Mr. LaManna said, because the customers are similar to its core non-conforming loan customers.
Additionally, the company did the right thing by hiring executives with experience in the field, he said.
Ken Roberts - a former executive vice president and chief operating officer for manufactured housing loan giant GreenTree Financial Corp., St. Paul - was pulled out of retirement to head the division. Other employees were culled from successful manufactured-housing lenders.
Before Mr. LaMalle's recommendation Friday, the market ignored United Cos.' entry into the manufactured-home lending market, the analyst said.
The company has also strengthened its management team, Mr. LaMalle said, with the addition of Mr. Dienes, formerly of NationsBank, and GeeGee Hargon, president of the lending subsidiary, who hails from Hibernia National Bank.