Leucadia emerges as new track player Investment firm has holdings worldwide

May 30, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Tom Keyser and researcher Paul M. McCardell contributed to this story.

The New York investment company considering buying a stake in Maryland's thoroughbred racetracks has vast holdings throughout the world and a record of finding undervalued firms and squeezing earnings from them.

Leucadia National Corp. has been so successful over the past 20 years that its executives announced recently they may dissolve all or part of the company, handing the assets back to shareholders in a massive liquidation of the company, which has a market capitalization of $2.26 billion.

Among the units that will apparently survive is a Washington-based subsidiary, Leucadia International, the unit that is negotiating with the estate of Jack Kent Cooke for a minority stake it holds in Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

The Washington subsidiary's managing director is Zalman Jacobs, who one source said is the son of Martin Jacobs, part-owner of the Maryland Jockey Club. The Maryland Jockey Club is the corporate parent of the racetracks.

Neither Jacobs would comment last night, nor would the track's majority owner, Joe De Francis. Also unavailable for comment was a spokesman for the Cooke estate, which is trying to liquidate the assets left by the multi-millionaire, including the Washington Redskins.

But several sources familiar with the negotiations said Leucadia is negotiating to buy the Cooke shares, which would give the firm 47 percent of Laurel Park and 50 percent of Pimlico. Cooke obtained the rights to the shares when he fronted De Francis the money to buy out his estranged partners, brothers Robert and John Manfuso.

The Manfusos were notified last week that their final payment would be made eight months earlier than required, apparently to facilitate the sale of the minority shares. The sale of the stock, if completed, could come next week, sources said.

De Francis, his sister Karin De Francis, and the elder Jacobs own 53 percent of Pimlico and 50 percent of Laurel.

Leucadia's assets range from California vineyards to a plastics manufacturer and a joint venture with Pepsi Cola in Russia. It also owns Empire Insurance and, until it sold it last year, Colonial Penn Life Insurance Co. The company reported a profit of $411.3 million last year, including the proceeds of the insurance company sales.

In a letter to shareholders this year, the company's top executives, Ian M. Cummings and Joseph S. Steinberg, said: "There is a vast amount of money sloshing around the world. As hard as we run, the hot money has beat us there."

Among the solutions the men laid out for consideration was a complete or partial liquidation of assets. No decision has been announced on a strategy.

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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