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Paulson urges Hartford to announce split-up soon


BOSTON (Reuters)—Prominent hedge fund manager John Paulson said on Friday that The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. could boost its share price by 62% if it listened to him and broke itself apart as soon as April.

Mr. Paulson, whose Paulson & Co. ranks as the insurer's biggest shareholder with an 8.51% stake, would like Hartford to soon say that it plans to spin off its property/casualty unit. "No one is saying do a spin-off today. We are saying announce a spin-off today and then take the next five to six quarters to close," Mr. Paulson said in a presentation that was filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

Mr. Paulson calculated that Hartford's combined value would stand at $31 a share if the company separated its property/casualty unit from its life insurance operations.

"A spinoff of P&C would unlock significant value," Mr. Paulson said in the presentation. "We believe the combined value would be approximately $31, a 62% increase," the fund manager added in the 24-page-long presentation.

Hartford's share price rose 0.4% to $20.00 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange after Mr. Paulson filed his presentation.

By putting a date and a number behind his requests for a split-up, Mr. Paulson on Friday added more punch to his increasingly vocal demands that the company must take dramatic action now to revive its flagging share price.

By flexing his muscle, Mr. Paulson also joins a growing number of hedge fund managers now playing a more activist role in calling for change at companies ranging from Yahoo Inc. to Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.

Over the last year, Hartford's shares have tumbled 30%. Mr. Paulson's biggest portfolio, the Advantage Plus fund, lost more than 50% in 2011 as his largest bets, including Hartford, sagged. Mr. Paulson oversees roughly $23 billion in assets.

Mr. Paulson, who cemented his credentials as one of the industry's most watched hedge fund managers with savvy bets against the subprime mortgage industry and on gold, has become increasingly public in calling for change at Hartford.

On a conference call in early February, the normally cool fund manager became so agitated when asking about future plans that he ended up shouting at Hartford's Chief Executive Officer Liam McGee.

On Friday, Mr. Paulson tweaked the formal proposal for a breakup that he made on Feb. 14 with the new numbers and plenty of charts and comparisons.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Paulson has also met with other investors and urged them to speak up as well.

The presentation is part of what Paulson & Co. is using in its "continuing discussions or communications with (Hartford's) management, board of directors and shareholders, and public statements," the hedge fund said in the filing.

As part of the plan, Mr. Paulson says that Hartford could shut down its variable-annuity operations to save cash and then review the strategy and structure of its life business over the next 12 months.