Kemper put up for sale as GE lifts bid: dollars 2.6bn deal would create one of the largest insurance services in the US

GENERAL ELECTRIC yesterday forced Kemper, the Chicago-based asset management and life insurance broker, to put itself up for sale, by increasing its hostile bid for the company by almost 10 per cent to dollars 2.6bn in cash. If successful, the bid would create one of the US's largest life insurance and fund management groups.

Kemper, which faced a shareholder proxy battle for board control with GE, said that although dollars 60 a share was not full and fair value, it was enough to consider putting the company up for sale.

Shareholders had been due to vote on 11 May on a proposal by GE to elect four GE nominees, who support the bid, to the Kemper board. The meeting has now been adjourned until 22 August.

GE Capital, the conglomorate's financial services arm, yesterday raised its earlier dollars 55-a-share offer to dollars 60. On Friday shares in Kemper closed on the New York Stock Exchange at dollars 56.12.

Kemper said it had therefore agreed to consider GE Capital's offer subject to the completion of due diligence and certain other conditions. But the company said it would also be talking to other potential bidders.

GE's offer is conditional on a detailed examination of all Kemper's operations in recent years, including a full review of its real estate portfolio and any existing or potential lawsuits before August.

Kemper said the same information would be made available to other interested parties.

In 1992 Kemper's revenues from insurance, real estate and related services were around dollars 2bn. General Electric's 1992 revenues were dollars 10.2bn.

GE, wants Kemper to expand its extensive mutual fund and money management businesses that cater to individual investors.

It launched its bid for company in mid-March. At the time its offer pushed the value of Kemper shares from about dollars 39 to dollars 61.

However, Kemper rejected the offer, saying GE Capital was trying to 'steal' the company with a 'lowball' dollars 55 per share offer.

GE retaliated by putting up four of its own nominees for election to the board of Kemper, a tactic often used in the 1980s but not frequently seen since.

Kemper, America's 14th largest mutual fund manager, has dollars 70bn of funds under management, dollars 44bn of them in mutual funds.

But problems in its property portfolio - in 1992 it reclassified dollars 234m of property loans as non-performing - have hurt the share price in recent years. This has prompted the installation of a new management.

GE has said that it wants Kemper to act as the flagship of its drive into asset management. GE and GE Capital at present have dollars 75bn of funds under management. GE Capital owns the securities house Kidder Peabody, where phantom trades of more than pounds 350m by Jo Jett, one of its key traders, were recently revealed

Relatively little of that money is in mutual funds, the fastest growing area of of the US retail investment business, however. GE is better known for its credit card processing and lease financing business.

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