JGWentworth & Co., the Radnor firm that buys insurance settlements for ready cash, had hoped to sell shares for as much as $22 before it went public last week. But demand was weak; underwriters cut their target, then cut it again; the stock ended up pricing at just $14, and has since traded down a bit at $13.50.
Still a good price, insists David Miller, the onetime IBM engineer, Navy sonar designer, Wharton MBA and veteran insurance executive executive who took the top job at JGWentworth in 2009, at the request of majority owners JLL, the private-equity firm, when the company was struggling.
"The number we got was a pretty good number. It's a fair price. It will make for happy investors," Miller told me this morning, after ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate the listing. The sale has so far netted the company $125 million, with more pending when Barclays and other underwriters sell their "greenshoe" shares over the next month.
"We went public to strengthen the balance sheet" and pay down the company's $572 million debt, he added. "This gives us the currency to make a couple of acquisitions. There are opportunities in our sector in the short term."
JGWentworth buys "structured settlements," court-approved sales of insurance damage awards (for example, from car accidents) for people who want (or need) ready cash instead of long-term payments.
Employment has grown to 370, from 65 when Miller took over. Miller, former boss at Ace Ltd.'s international accident and health business, founder of Kemper's direct insurance business, and head of National Liberty's Chester County direct-sales operation, says suburban Philly is a good place to hire insurance people, including recent college graduates.
JLL Partners bought Wentworth in 2005; typically private-equity firms hope to sell such investments within 10 years, Miller notes; so "the next step for them is to harvest returns" by selling the shares it still owns. JLL has already been a profitable investment for Wentworth, which has paid itself dividends and stands to make many millions more if it can sell its controlling stake at or above the current market price.