KKR Looking to Financial Sector and Troubled Companies for New Deals
NEW YORK (AP) _ Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., which recently agreed to an investment in troubled Bank of New England, says it will be looking to other financial companies and struggling businesses for some of its future deals.
Kohlberg Kravis said it was refining its strategy in response to changes in the market for acquisitions. And while the firm made a fortune in debt- financed buyouts in the 1980s - most notably the $24.53 billion purchase of RJR Nabisco Inc. - it acknowledged it can no longer rely heavily on debt to fund its ventures.
In a 1990 review sent recently to its investors, many of them big pension funds, Kohlberg Kravis said its areas of interest have not changed. But the investment firm stated, ″We can provide a welcome source of new, patient capital to financial institutions and other troubled industry groups.″
Kohlberg Kravis was not known for pursuing ailing businesses in the past. However, in April, it agreed to commit $283 million as a passive investor in the Bank of New England with Fleet-Norstar Financial Group as its active partner.
The investment firm and Fleet-Norstar submitted the winning bid for the failed bank, which was seized earlier this year and auctioned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Kohlberg Kravis noted that its strategy has changed somewhat, and that its passive investment in the Bank of New England deal was a shift from its usual role as a hands-on buyer. It also noted that the 1990s are different times in the buyout business.
″... The capital markets and market opportunities have changed,″ the company said. ″The investment approach most appropriate to realize certain unique opportunities has to be modified to the circumstances.″
However, Kohlberg Kravis said, ″we expect traditional buyout investments to continue to drive our business.″
The firm also told investors it was using more equity and less debt to finance its deals.
″The use of leverage in management buyouts will have to be modified to reflect new business and financing realities,″ the investment firm said.
The name Kohlberg Kravis has been almost synonymous with leveraged buyouts, transactions accomplished with millions or billions of dollars worth of debt. But LBOs have fallen into disfavor after some of the big deals of the 1980s turned sour because companies took on more debt than they could handle.
Two Kohlberg Kravis acquisitions have been among the casualties.
Seaman Furniture Co. Inc. was forced to restructure its debt after the recession cut into the retailer’s sales and hampered the company’s ability to make its payments. And Hillsborough Holdings Corp. is undergoing bankruptcy court reorganization after the market for building products stalled and Hillsborough was also unable to pay its bills.
But Kohlberg Kravis’ most famous deal, its buyout of RJR Nabisco, remains untarnished after the food and tobacco conglomerate recapitalized last year, in part with a $1.7 billion equity infusion from the investment firm.
After the RJR Nabisco purchase, Kohlberg Kravis began a two-year dry spell during which it made no major acquisitions. The hiatus ended with the Bank of New England deal and an agreement to buy nine publications including the Daily Racing Form from Rupert Murdoch for about $650 million.
The investment firm attributed the lull to the high price for assets and the high cost of funds.
But Kohlberg Kravis indicated it was not short of money for future deals. The firm said it had commitments for over $1 billion from its investors to add to its existing funds.
The investment firm noted that several of its companies - including RJR Nabisco, retailers Safeway Stores Inc. and AutoZone, and battery maker Duracell International Inc. - have sold stock to the public over the past year. It didn’t indicate whether any of its other holdings would follow suit.
Kohlberg Kravis properties include glass maker Owens-Illinois Inc., Union Texas Petroleum Inc., the retailers Fred Meyer Inc. and Stop and Shop Cos. Inc., heating system manufacturer Marley Co. and publisher K-III Holdings.