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Strong Financial is up for sale

“A sale of the company is among the strategic alternatives we are considering,” company spokeswoman Stephanie Truog said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Strong Financial Corp. confirmed that it is for sale Wednesday, a day after founder and chief executive Richard Strong resigned amid federal and state investigations into his trading activities.

In a brief statement, the company said it had hired Goldman Sachs to look for possible deals.

“A sale of the company is among the strategic alternatives we are considering,” company spokeswoman Stephanie Truog said. “Nothing may come of this exploration. But it’s an opportune time to be looking at all the options, and that’s just what we’re doing.”

She declined to discuss the asking price for the company, or say if any prospective buyers had stepped forward.

News that the company was for sale had been somewhat expected, given Strong’s resignation and his announcement Tuesday that he would give up voting control of the company in which he has an 85 percent stake.

Strong and his company are under investigation for alleged improper fund trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.

The company has acknowledged Strong engaged in some next-day transactions in his personal accounts, as well as those of friends and family. Those transactions are estimated to have yielded as much as $600,000.

Strong, who has denied any wrongdoing, stepped down Tuesday as chairman, chief executive officer and chief investment officer of Strong Financial Corp. He also left his positions on the boards of directors at Strong Financial and Strong Mutual Funds.

Kenneth J. Wessels, former president of the Dain Rauscher Wessels Capital Markets division and director of Dain Rauscher Corp., has taken over as chairman and CEO. Richard T. Weiss, a Strong portfolio manager, is leading Strong’s investment department.

The company now has 1,300 employees and manages $42.7 billion in assets. Strong himself is worth $800 million, according to Forbes magazine.

Strong Financial’s significant assets make it an attractive buy, said Roy Weitz, publisher of, a Los Angeles-based online mutual fund advisory service.

“Even if it loses 5 or even 10 percent of its asset base, it’s still a big fund company and those kinds of assets are not easy to come by these days,” he said.

Paul Herbert, a mutual fund analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Chicago, predicted the sale price could total $1 billion, although buyers will have some bargaining power because of the scandal. Especially attractive, he said, are several Strong bond funds that have $1 billion in assets, which buyers might want.

Neil Bathon, president of Financial Research Corp. in Boston, said selling now makes sense, since the company’s value could drop if regulators successfully build a case against Strong and his company.

Bathon said the downside to the sale would be how tightly tied the firm is to Richard Strong.

“It’s very, very attractive but at the same time it’s a quirky kind of sale because everything it has been known for has to change,” he said.