ITT Corp., under fire from some shareholders who would like to see the liquidation of the conglomerate, yesterday announced plans to sell $1.7 billion worth of its holdings.
The company said it was making the move to concentrate its efforts on its telecommunications, insurance, financial services and automotive and industrial equipment businesses "to provide the strongest growth orientation, in sales and profits, for the company's future."
"What they're going to be left with is a hard core of defensible businesses, growing businesses, which they can fund," said analyst Brian Fernandez at Nomura Securities in New York. "This gives them more gas to put in fewer tanks. . . . You can't exactly run at high speed when you're on gas rationing."
ITT did not offer many specifics about what operations it planned to sell. But it said its sales list included:
* The portion of its Eason Oil Co. remaining from an earlier $240 million sale of part of that division.
* Some other parts of its natural resources division, which also includes a coal company.
* Some of its overseas insurance and telecommunications operations.
* Parts of its publishing and educational services holdings.
* A dozen companies held in the firm's industrial technology division, which includes, among other things, the companies that make Burpee seeds and Scott garden products.
ITT said it also was considering selling part of its interest in Sheraton Hotels, although it would continue to manage the hotel chain.
One division that some analysts had expected the company to offer for sale, ITT Rayonier, a wood and pulp company, is not on the block "at this time," the company said, because of poor business conditions in that industry.
In all, the company said its divestiture program would involve $2 billion worth of holdings, counting the $535 million the company received last year selling part of Eason Oil and ITT Continental Baking Co., the maker of Wonder Bread. ITT Chairman Rand V. Araskog said the latest round of sales will be "accomplished as quickly as practicable."
ITT has been under pressure for several months from a variety of directions. Sputtering financial results caused it to slash its dividend last year to $1 a share from $2.76, surprising Wall Street and sending its stock tumbling.
That started takeover rumors, which were further fueled when corporate raider Irwin R. Jacobs bought approximately 2 percent of the company's stock in December. Many analysts believe Jacobs would like to gain control of the company and liquidate it -- a strategy also suggested by several other stockholders in proposals that ITT has declined to include in the proxy statement for its upcoming annual meeting. Proponents of liquidation believe that ITT, with $14 billion in assets, would fetch more money for stockholders if it were broken up and sold piecemeal.
Jacobs would not comment on his plans yesterday. But he was critical of the company's announcement.
E. F. Hutton analyst Larry Baker said yesterday's announcement was a virtual blueprint for a partial liquidation of ITT. "If someone wanted to come in and do a takeover, they have a list of things they could sell," he said, adding that he thinks Jacobs wants a much more radical breakup of the company.
But Baker said that while the action does not necessarily remove the takeover threat, it may strengthen the position of Araskog and the other members of ITT's management. "It reduces the ability of someone to claim that management isn't doing anything, and they would come in and do a better job," he said.
Fernandez suggested the moves would strengthen the company financially and boost its stock price -- thus raising the cost of taking it over. "The higher the stock price goes, the less likely they are to be taken over," he said. "I think it's positive news and a step forward."
ITT stock yesterday rose 7/8 to 32 1/4 in very heavy trading. The stock has been trading within a couple dollars of $30 a share for several weeks.