In a move to further cut costs until top-line growth improves, Marsh & McLennan
The latest round of job cuts and information technology rationalization efforts are expected to save $350 million annually by 2008 after charges of $225 million are taken. The charges are expected to be realized over three years -- 15% this year, 55% next year, and 30% in 2008.
Right now, the share price of $27.71 is roughly the same as where it traded back in 1998. That's because Eliot Spitzer came knocking on Marsh's door in October 2004, accusing the company of fraudulent business practices, including rigging bids in its primary insurance brokerage division and relying on questionable contingent commissions, where insurance firms basically compensated Marsh for driving business their way.
The practice was deemed dubious and a conflict of interest in regard to Marsh's clients -- those who relied on Marsh for obtaining quality and cost-effective insurance on their behalf. Since then, Marsh has effectively eliminated contingent commissions and, in January 2005, agreed to set aside $850 million to reimburse approximately 70,000 mistreated eligible policyholders.
Marsh's broker arm has yet to recover from the devastating civil complaint and has led former clients into the arms of competing brokers, including Aon
The remaining segments, including Mercer consulting and the Kroll risk consulting and technology unit that was acquired in July 2004, continue to perform well. However, they haven't performed well enough to offset Marsh's insurance and investment woes. Nevertheless, none of the four operating units is capital-intensive or has a history of generating significant cash flow. Before the stock was Spitzerized, it had a 15-year track record of 15%-plus annual growth.
In any case, investors are becoming increasingly complacent about Marsh's flagging stock price and operations that appear to be just spinning their wheels. I don't know what it will take for revenue to start moving again, and the recent restructuring amounts only to window dressing. As a shareholder, here's to hoping the move is a sign of better things to come.
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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann is long shares of MMC but has no financial interest in any other company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email Ryan with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.