Penson shares stabilize after sharp sell-off
* Penson says Thursday sell-off was "unwarranted"
* Raymond James analyst suggested company should be sold
* Penson shares stabilize, climb 9 percent on Friday
* Firm regularly "evaluates strategic positioning"-exec
By Joseph A. Giannone
NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - Shares of securities clearing company Penson Worldwide Inc PNSN.O, hammered this week after disclosure of some troubled debt, rebounded on Friday from record lows in part on speculation the episode may prompt a sale of the company.
The Dallas-based company, which clears and settles securities trades around the world, saw its stock plunge more than 40 percent on Wednesday and Thursday after it disclosed $43 million in "non-accruing" bonds linked to a horse racing track headed by Penson director Thomas Johnson.
Johnson, who is chief executive of Call Now Inc (CLNW.PK), resigned Thursday.
In afternoon trade Friday, Penson shares were up 9 percent at $3.40, one of the biggest gainers on the Nasdaq after Penson executives insisted the sell-off was "unwarranted" and that losses on the bonds, if any. would not be significant.
"None of this affects or involves any correspondents or their customers, whom we continue to service as usual," said Daniel Son, vice chairman and co-founder of Penson Worldwide, in a statement emailed to Reuters on Friday.
Son also told Reuters that Penson's capital and cash have increased "incrementally" since the end of the March quarter.
Penson is Canada's largest independent clearing broker and the No. 2 independent clearing broker in the United States and Britain.
Raymond James & Associates analyst Patrick O'Shaughnessy said the 16-year-old company will survive the turmoil and that, based on his calls to Penson clients, will not see its customers flee. Still the disclosure has "permanently impaired" Penson's reputation.
He told his investor clients that "a sale may prove to the best option" for Penson shareholders.
Son, in an e-mail, did not dismiss the possibility of a sale as raised by the analyst.
"We regularly evaluate our strategic positioning within the industry, and will continue to do. We attempt to make strategic decisions in the best interest of all of our stakeholders, including our correspondents and their customers, and our shareholders," Son said.
Investors ran for the exits two days after Penson filed its quarterly financial report, which on Monday disclosed a collateral position associated with Retama Development Corp, which operates a horse-racing track 60 miles south of Austin.
Penson said it had $97 million of loans and bonds no longer paying interest, including $42.6 million of receivables backed by Retama. The bonds, liquid when they were initially designated as collateral, no longer have an active market.
Sandler O'Neill analyst Richard Repetto warned "the new disclosures (might) affect its correspondent clearing customers" or potentially trigger bank debt covenants. Repetto slashed his price target by a dollar to $4.50.
Raymond James' O'Shaughnessy says Penson would have $3.00 a share tangible book value if it wrote down the Retama debt.
Penson said it expects to resolve this situation without a loss, and that if a loss were realized, it would have no impact on Penson's capital or financial condition.
Penson reported more than $5.8 billion in cash or cash equivalents at the end of the March and had more than $100 million of excess regulatory capital.
The Retama debt, Penson added, represents 0.49 percent of its $8.7 billion in average daily customer balances.
Still the disclosure cast a spotlight on Johnson, who had served as Penson director and CEO of Call Now, Retama's parent company. He owns $15 million of the bonds in question and manages the racetrack facility, analysts said.
Penson on Thursday said Johnson agreed to resign from the board, citing his position at Call Now, which holds some of Retama-related collateral. Call Now was a customer of Penson at one time and an original investor in the firm. (Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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