BREAKING: Is Conseco for sale?

Conseco Inc. reported today that it has been working with investment bank Morgan Stanley for months to explore “strategic alternatives” for the company – a phrase often used when a company is searching for a buyer.

Carmel-based Conseco made the announcement this morning as it declined a request from one of its largest investors, Steel Partners II, L.P., to nominate two of Steel’s representatives to Conseco’s board of directors.

The company, which employs about 2,300 in Carmel, also reported fourth-quarter and year-end earnings.

In the fourth quarter, the insurance company posted a loss of $72.2 million, or 39 cents per share, on revenue of $1.1 billion. For the year, Conseco lost $196 million, or $1.21 per share, on $4.6 billion in revenue.

Conseco did not provide a comparison with prior quarters because it is in the process of restating most or all of its financial reports since 2003. The restatements are due to an ongoing discussion with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about whether Conseco’s reporting methods comply with SEC rules interpretations.

“We share with Steel Partners, as well as our other shareholders, a common interest in taking actions that will increase the value of the company for shareholders,” Conseco CEO Jim Prieur said in a statement. “In that regard, we have been working with a major investment bank for several months regarding strategic alternatives and plans to maximize shareholder value for Conseco.”

Conseco stock was down 8.1 percent in pre-market trading this morning, to $9.25 per share. At that price, the company has a stock market value of $1.87 billion.

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