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Rating:Is Interest in Strong Fizzling? Not Rated 4.0 Email Routing List Email & Route  Print Print
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Is Interest in Strong Fizzling?

Reported by Theresa Sim

Wells Fargo is reportedly the latest favored bidder for Strong Financial Group, with Nuveen Investments as the "other bidder still in the running" reported Reuters on Monday. Reuters cited two unnamed sources as a basis for its report.

The sources agreed that the sale was still several weeks away.

"My information is the Wells deal is back on track...[b]ut we've not seen anything close to definitive" Reuters reported one source close to the negotiations as saying.

Since Richard Strong relinquished control of the company in December 2003, Strong officials and media have issued varying reports about the sale. In late January, the Greater Milwaukee Business Journal reported that Strong executives told a pension client that the firm would find a buyer within 60 to 90 days. Strong’s CEO, Kenneth Wessels stated in mid-February that a sale could close "quite shortly."

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported in January that there were six and a dozen potential buyers, respectively. The Times reported that Strong could sell for as much as $900 million, while the Journal stated a $450 to $750 million range. In early February, sources told MFWire that Goldman Sachs, advising Strong on the sale, had reduced the price to $600 million.

The Reuters article implied that the funds managed by Strong are key to the sale –- "Wells Fargo has sought assurances that leading portfolio managers at Strong would stay with the company after its sale...'I think they got the ones they care about,’" one of their sources said.

Besides investment management, Strong also offers retirement plan services. Strong entered the retirement plan business in 1981, started an administration and record-keeping unit in 1992, and opened a full-service retirement plan center in Menomee Falls, Wisconsin, where the company is headquartered, in March 2001.

For Wells, Strong’s administration capability would likely not be a boon, as the firm already administers its own plans.

Wells targets larger clients while Strong’s clients are mainly middle market. Wells Fargo has over 4,000 sponsors and Strong has 263, according to an October 2003 Pensions & Investments article.

Wells Fargo’s success with past investment management acquisitions has been mixed.

It acquired NorWest, a Minneapolis-based firm, in 1998. Norwest had already acquired Emjay, a small-business retirement plan administrator at that time. Wells then sold WFRPS, the former Emjay, in November 2003, citing that it was not part of their core retirement plan business.

"Our core retirement plan business, which is not part of this strategic relationship with Great-West and is supported by the OmniPlus recordkeeping system, remains a strategic growth area for Wells Fargo. Our primary retirement business strategy is focused on direct clients from consultant contacts and from cross-sell from the many businesses that make up Wells Fargo," said Jay Kiedrowski, Executive Vice President of Wells Fargo Institutional Trust Services in November 2003.

Wells also acquired the bulk of assets managed by Montgomery Asset Management, an institutional and individual investment management firm, in late 2002. 

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