Cowen Group's CEO Discusses Q4 2011 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

Cowen Group (COWN)

Q4 2011 Earnings Call

March 02, 2012 9:00 am ET

Executives

Peter Anthony Cohen - Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President, Member of Executive Committee and Member of Operating Committee

Jeffrey Marc Solomon - Chief Operating Officer, Head of Investment Banking, Director, Chief Executive Officer of Cowen & Company, Member of Executive Committee and Member of Operating Committee

Stephen A. Lasota - Chief Financial Officer, Principal Accounting Ofifcer and Member of Operating Committee

Thomas W. Strauss - Member of The Board of Directors, Member of Executive Committee, Member of Operating Committee, Chief Executive Officer of Ramius Alternative Solutions and President of Ramius Alternative Solutions

Analysts

Joel Jeffrey - Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division

Jonathan Shafter

Donald Destino

Presentation

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for joining the Cowen Group, Inc. Conference Call to discuss the financial results for the 2011 fourth quarter and full year. By now, you should have received a copy of the company's earnings release, which can be accessed at the Cowen Group, Inc. website at www.cowen.com.

Before we begin, the company has asked me to remind you that some of the comments made on today's call and some of the responses to your questions may contain forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to the risks and uncertainties described in the company's earnings release and other filings with the SEC. Cowen Group, Inc. has no obligation to update the information presented on the call. A complete description of these and other risks and uncertainties and assumptions is included in the company's filings with the SEC, which are available on the company's website and on the SEC's website at www.sec.gov.

Also on today's call, our speakers will reference certain non-GAAP financial measures, which the company believes will provide useful information for investors. Reconciliation of those measures to GAAP is consistent with the company's reconciliation as presented in today's earnings release.

I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Peter Cohen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Please proceed.

Peter Anthony Cohen

Thank you, operator. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Cowen Group's Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2011 Earnings Call. With me here today are Jeff Solomon, CEO of Cowen and Company; and Steve Lasota, CFO of Cowen Group. Before we get into the numbers, I want to express my appreciation to the efforts that our employees put forth in 2011. In an extraordinarily, volatile and challenging environment, Ramius continue to expand, at present, the asset management business. In our broker-dealer, we managed to do it with very difficult restructuring.

The fourth quarter results reflect the expenses associated with restructuring efforts and the difficult operating environment. Overall, the broker -- overall, the results were disappointing but we made real progress in positioning the broker-dealer platform to perform in the future. In a minute, we'll speak about Ramius and outline our performance within that business. But first, I want to make sure that existing and new shareholders understand what we're striving to achieve by reshaping Cowen and Company, and what it means to the performance of this organization as a whole. To our advantage, we are well-capitalized compared to our peers at nearly $450 million or approximately $4 per share of invested capital. Our balance sheet included over $345 million in cash and liquid securities at the end of the year, up from approximately $200 million at the end of 2010. We were able to invest when and how we need in order to capitalize opportunities to meet client needs to compete and build value for our shareholders. We have also returned capital to shareholders by purchasing stock. Last year, we bought back a total of 5.4 million shares for approximately $17 million. This includes 3.6 million of shares purchased in the open market, 1.2 million shares acquired under the net settlement program, and additional 500,000 shares acquired in conjunction with LaBranche acquisition.

Cowen and Company has a strong equity research, and research sales franchise and a talented group of investment banking and capital market professionals. However, the issue we are seeing in our broker-dealer and have worked to address it, the market environment and the structure of the business produced decreasing returns to our platform. We are not really interested in the Board of attrition, we are seeking market opportunities in industry segments that are in need of the kinds of products and services that we can effectively offer and do so from a leading position. In order to achieve this, we needed to make substantial changes in the organization in 2010 and '11. We increased our capitalization with LaBranche acquisition, we aligned -- better aligned our banking research and sales around growth sectors where we believe we can win business and key professionals in those areas, we migrate ourselves in trading group into a better profit center by focusing on developing electronic trading as components to our high touch legacy business, highlighted by a recently announced Definitive Agreement to acquire Algorithmic Trading Management. We committed to invest and develop our brand in Asia, and we aggressively took cost out of the business through headcount reductions in non-core sales and trading businesses that faced diminishing revenue and profitability. Later in the call, Jeff will discuss these initiatives in much greater detail.

We've accomplished a lot, but it's always expensive to invest, especially to a downturn. In undertaking these efforts at a relatively short period of time, numerous cash and non-cash losses have been incurred, and you are seeing this reflected in our financial report today. We worked hard throughout the year to reset the Cowen platform to better-position the company for profitability, and we had the need to do the same for -- from an accounting perspective in the fourth quarter.

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