CNO stock hits 4-year high on recapitalization strategy

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Stock in CNO Financial Group Inc. hit a four-year high Wednesday morning, a day after it announced it is seeking $950 million of loans and bonds to repay debt and reduce borrowing costs.

CNO shares gained 5.3 percent, to $9.43 each, in early trading, the highest intraday price since August 2008. They closed the day at $9.45, the highest close since July 2008. The firm’s shares have gained 50 percent this year.

“The deal should optimize the company’s debt leverage,” Randy Binner, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, wrote in a research note Tuesday. “CNO is a compelling value play in our opinion with an in-progress capital management story.”

The Carmel-based insurer plans to obtain senior secured credit consisting of a $400 million, six-year term loan and a $250 million portion that matures in four years, CNO said Tuesday in a prepared statement. CNO also plans to sell $250 million of senior secured notes due in 2020 and is seeking a $50 million, three-year revolving credit line.

The insurance provider said the new term loans and bonds would be used, along with cash on hand, to pay off the $224 million outstanding under its senior secured credit agreement, plus notes for an estimated $657 million.

“Our strong balance sheet and free cash flow generation position us to take advantage of the favorable capital market conditions to reduce our cost of capital, increase our financial flexibility, and improve the debt maturity profile,” Ed Bonach, CEO of CNO, said in the statement.

The company, which counts John Paulson’s hedge fund as its largest investor, is planning to repurchase as much as $275 million of 9-percent notes due in 2018 for about $323 million, according to the statement. It will also redeem about $200 million of its 7-percent convertible senior debentures maturing in 2016 from affiliates of Paulson & Co. for about $334 million.

The transactions are expected to close late this month, CNO said.

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