Morgan Keegan may soon be for sale after agreeing to a $210 million settlement with federal, state and industry regulators over issues related to subprime mortgage-backed securities.
Regions Financial Corp., Morgan Keegan’s parent firm since 2001, announced today that it has retained Goldman, Sachs & Co. to explore “potential strategic alternatives for Morgan Keegan” as the firm “evaluates how best to manage its capital to increase shareholder value.”
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Memphis-based Morgan Keegan, which has 300 offices in 20 states, will most likely be sold to another broker-dealer, a large regional bank or a private equity firm interested in re-selling the firm when the market improves, said Kevin Fitzsimmons, an analyst with Sandler O’Neill & Partners. “I don’t think this is being driven by an improving market for broker-dealers, but rather a large regional bank looking for levers to pull in its attempt to boost capital,” Fitzsimmons said.
Getting out from under Regions “is the best thing that could happen” to Morgan Keegan’s 1,200 brokers and financial advisors said Danny Sarch, president of Leitner Sarch Consultants, a White Plains, N.Y.-based executive search firm.
He compared Morgan Keegan’s situation to Smith Barney’s ownership by Citibank and noted Regions’ problems, such as the $3.5 billion the bank still owes the federal government under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
“Getting out from under Citibank was a good thing [for Smith Barney],” Sarch said, “and so is leaving Regions. The question now is who is the buyer, so I think most brokers will wait to see what happens.”
However, Alois Pirker, research director and senior analyst for Boston-based Aite Group, believes top Morgan Keegan may be inclined to leave, or at least be recruited heavily by other firms. “I think there will be a lot of cherry-picking going on, and the sale may be a race against time,” Pirker said. “Top people leaving could affect the valuation process, so it becomes a very tricky situation.”
In a statement, Regions president and chief executive Grayson Hall described Morgan Keegan as “a very valuable franchise,” but added that the regulatory settlement gave the bank “greater flexibility with respect to the Morgan Keegan franchise and the ability to explore opportunities that are consistent with our strategic and capital planning initiatives.”
The settlement resolved claims brought last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and state regulators, the SEC said today in a separate statement. The firm misled clients about asset values and risks of bond funds that caused investor losses during the mortgage crisis, regulators claimed. The company settled the SEC’s complaints without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee were the five states initially included in the settlement.
According to Regions, $200 million will be paid into two Fair Funds, one administered under instructions from the SEC, and another administered under instructions from the states, with $100 million to be paid into each of the two funds. In addition, a penalty of up to $10 million will be paid to those states that join in the settlement.