Prison Firm Shunned by Wall Street Finds New Ally for Debt Deal

Geo Group Inc., one of the largest operators of private prisons and immigrant detention centers in the U.S. that has been snubbed by much of Wall Street, is planning to sell at least $200 million of convertible bonds to refinance debt maturing next year.

The company has tapped StoneX Group Inc. to run the sale amid increasing political scrutiny over the for-profit prison industry, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because details of the transaction are private.

If successful, the deal will help Geo refinance its 5.875% unsecured notes due in January 2022, according to a statement Wednesday. It could also help alleviate concerns about the company’s ability to raise capital from institutional investors. Geo’s shares dropped as much as 8.6% on Thursday, before paring back some losses.

StoneX is marketing the new Geo bonds, which mature in 2026, with a coupon in the 6% to 6.5% range, and a conversion premium of between 20% and 22.5%, according to one of the people. The underwriters have the option to increase the size of the offering by $30 million.

Representatives for Geo and StoneX, formerly INTL FCStone Inc., didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The sale comes at a challenging time for Geo. Its earnings have been hit by lower occupancy rates at its facilities during the pandemic, while the entire industry remains under heavy political pressure. President Joe Biden instructed the Justice Department last month not to renew contracts with private-prison operators, dealing the latest blow to the sector.

Both Geo and its main rival CoreCivic Inc. have faced dwindling options to raise cash after several Wall Street firms have said they would stop lending to companies that run private prisons and detention centers.

Geo paid down around $100 million of net debt last year, and recently reduced its quarterly dividend in an effort to maintain that pace going forward, founder and Chief Executive Officer George Zoley said on an earnings call Tuesday.

Short interest in Geo’s stock has grown to nearly a quarter of shares available over the past few months, according to exchange data. The shares are down more than 10% this year, while Geo’s 2022 notes have been trading at around 97.7 cents on the dollar, according to Trace.

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