Dismal financial results at Kohl’s have raised concerns that the company’s auction to sell itself will be a bust – even as management continues to tout the strong interest by potential suitors, The Post has learned.
The bids are due in “the coming weeks,” Kohl’s affirmed on Thursday after delivering an abysmal first quarter in which it slashed its profit and sales outlook for the year and said that consumers are pulling back on their spending, resulting in a 5.2% comparable sales drop compared to a year ago.
Analysts had expected a 0.5% increase in sales – and so did potential bidders.
“I was shocked by the results,” said a source close to the sales process, adding “I don’t believe there will be any acceptable bids offered now.”
Kohl’s stinker quarter is compounded by the turbulence in the financial markets.
“No one is signing up to finance a mega merger now,” a lending source at one of the largest banks told The Post. “There’s no market.”
Banks are afraid to loan money in a highly leveraged deal against any company, the banker added.
Earlier this year, Kohl’s rejected a $9 billion offer from Starboard Value LP, which wanted to buy the company for $64 a share, or a 37% premium. Kohl’s said that was too low, and adopted a so-called poison pill to prevent activist investors from acquiring more than 10% of its shares.
Now, enthusiasm for the deal has likely been extinguished, sources told The Post, in part because of a lack of transparency from Kohl’s.
Last week, Kohl’s won a proxy fight to replace 10 of its directors. But they might not have affirmed the board had they known about the company’s most recent performance, sources said.
“Basically the company knew their results stunk and they didn’t tell anyone and they got the shareholder vote for their board of directors,” said the source close to the sales process.
The company has said that there have been at least 25 interested parties. Among the most prominent bidders are Canadian department store Hudson’s Bay Co., shopping mall giant Simon Property and Canada-based Brookfield Asset Management — which offered $8.6 billion as The Post reported — and private equity giants Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green & Partners.
Kohl’s chief executive, Michelle Gass said on Thursday that the company is “pleased with the number of parties who recognize the value of our business and plan.”
The retail chain only reluctantly agreed to initiate a sales process after activist investor Macellum Advisors first pushed the company to do so in January. But sources tell The Post the Wisconsin-based company may be privately rooting for an outcome in which bidders fade away – despite the public image management has put forward.
Still, others say a sale is still viable but at a greater discount.
Potential buyers might lower their bids but the company is an attractive acquisition — including a valuable real estate portfolio — that one lousy quarter doesn’t undo, another source said.
On Thursday, shares of Kohl’s closed at $45.04 — well off its $63.11 price just two months ago.
Kohl’s did not immediately respond for comment.
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