Conseco/CNO Financial and Office Complexes and Initial Public Offerings and Irwin Financial and Real Estate & Retail

Australian owner abandons efforts to sell Chase Tower

September 19, 2009

Indiana’s tallest skyscraper is staying in the hands of the Aussies.

Macquarie Office Trust of Sydney, Australia, has quietly pulled the 48-story Chase Tower off the market, along with a property in Boston and a property in Denver that failed to draw juicy enough offers.

“The … assets have been withdrawn from sale as there weren’t bids that made sense for us to pursue at this stage,” Macquarie CEO Adrian Taylor said in a conference call with analysts late last month.

IBJ reported in January that cash-strapped Macquarie had put the property, along with the adjacent Circle Building, up for sale with an asking price of $180 million. The tower was built in 1989, and Circle Building went up in 1959. The buildings combined encompass 1.1 million square feet.

It was a classic case of wishful thinking. Publicly traded Macquarie had paid a total of $170.6 million in two transactions in 2004 and 2005—near the peak of the market.

Trying to sell for a higher price seemed fanciful amid a deep recession, when few buyers were looking and few banks were lending.

The company owns 41 properties, including 20 in Australia and 15 in the United States. Last month, it owned up to the new realities, writing down the value of its holdings worldwide. That included a reduction of 13 percent, or $279 million, on its U.S. properties. (It didn’t break out its valuation for Chase Tower.)

But it’s not all bad news for Macquarie, which has made progress this year bringing its ominous debt load under control. Through property sales and other moves, it “now has an appropriate capital structure to meet the challenges of the current economic environment,” Taylor said in a written statement.

And Chase Tower isn’t exactly a shabby holding. The property boasts vacancy of just 1.5 percent. That’s far superior to the vacancy rate for the overall downtown office market, which stands at 17 percent.

KAR IPO super-sized

Early signs are that KAR Holdings Inc.’s initial public offering is going to be a doozy—the largest for a central Indiana company since Anthem Inc. (now known as WellPoint Inc.) raised nearly $2 billion in 2001.

The Carmel-based company, parent of the auto auction firm Adesa, filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission Sept. 14 outlining plans to raise as much as $400 million.

KAR hasn’t disclosed details of the offering, such as how many shares it wants to sell and at what price. And it still could backtrack and pull the deal. Several local companies have begun the IPO process in recent years, only to reverse course when market conditions soured. The last local company to complete an IPO was HHGregg Inc., which raised $122 million two years ago.

With 13,000 employees, including 300 at its Carmel headquarters, KAR would rank among Indianapolis’ largest public companies. In the fiscal year ended June 30, the company reported revenue of $1.7 billion and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $142 million.

The business was public until a group of private-equity investors purchased it for $3.7 billion in late 2006. The acquirers were Goldman Sachs, Kelso & Co., ValueAct Capital and Parthenon Capital.

The initial filing doesn’t disclose whether existing owners plan to cash in shares in the IPO. Private-equity firms often take companies public as an exit strategy, selling shares in the offering or a year or two afterward.

The IPO market is showing signs of life nationally, thanks to this year’s stock market rebound. Sixty-seven firms now are in the pipeline to go public, according to Renaissance Capital, up from just 29 as of March.

Irwin’s painful odyssey

The news just keeps getting worse for Columbus-based Irwin Financial Corp.

Hours after the company acknowledged that “it has no realistic prospect” of meeting heightened capital standards imposed by regulators, Irwin said Sept. 16 that regulators are taking issue with how it accounted for certain losses in the second quarter.

The company—which analysts speculate is on the verge of failing—says it will calculate new second-quarter results. The original numbers already were bleak, with losses totaling $57 million. Until new figures come out, Irwin said, second-quarter financials “should not be relied upon.”

Woes at Irwin, parent of Irwin Union Bank, have rattled investors for months. Shares are trading at around 50 cents, down 60 percent on the year.

Conseco roars back

Conseco Inc. shares are trading at around $6, which may not sound impressive. But it is if you consider the depths to which the stock sunk earlier this year.

Back in March, when investors were fretting over the company’s eroding capital and investment losses, shares traded for as little as 26 cents apiece. From that low, the stock has risen 2,200 percent.

The rebounding economy has helped calm investors’ nerves, as have improved financial results. The company also has taken steps to reduce expenses. This month, for instance, it said it would combine three insurance subsidiaries into one.

Even with the rebound, long-term shareholders are deep in the red. The stock traded for more than $20 a share in 2007.•

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