As the clock ticks away on Best Buy founder Richard Schulze’s 60-day deadline to propose an offer to buy back the company, the debate rages on whether the billionaire can actually finance the deal.
In August, Schulze struck a confidentiality agreement with Best Buy that will allow “six equity financing sources” to view the company’s financial information. That doesn't’ mean six firms will actually fund the estimated $10 billion price tag, just that Schulze needs back up sources of money should one or more parties drop out.
Indeed, KKR (Krohlberg, Kravis, Roberts) has declined to move forward, according to a Wall Street source with close connections to the industry. That presumably leaves Leonard Green & Partners, Texas Pacific Group (TPG), and Apollo Global Management plus two unknown parties still in the running.
Of the remaining group, Leonard Green is the most likely to back Schulze, given its strong attachment, both financially and emotionally, to retail. The Los Angeles-based private equity firm, which has raised $15 billion since its debut in 1989, has invested in big name retailers like Neiman Marcus, Whole Foods, BJ Wholesale Club, Petco, and Rite-Aid.
An analyst with a hedge fund that owns Best Buy stock recently told the Star Tribune that he had spoken with a top official at Leonard Greene before Schulze publicly announced his takeover bid. The official said Leonard Green was not only highly interested in a bid but stated that “it was important that Best Buy survive,” the analyst said.
In any case, Schulze will probably have to pony up more money out of his own pocket beyond the 20 percent stake, worth over a $1 billion, in Best Buy he has already pledged toward a takeover.
So who are the other two parties bound to the confidentiality agreement? The Star Tribune previously reported that Schulze had previously spoken with Liberty Media, the media content company led by billionaire John Malone that owns the Starz cable channel.
The Wall Street source who told the Star Tribune about KKR’s departure, also said Schulze held “high level discussions” with the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar in the Middle East. But a source close to Schulze denied it.
Maybe so. But foreign money makes a whole of sense, especially if American private equity firms don’t want to roll the dice on Best Buy.
China, in particular, has been looking to park its cash in something that will generate a better return than U.S. Treasury bills. In July, China offered to pay $15 billion to acquire Canada’s Nexen oil company.
Indeed, Best Buy’s international assets, which includes stores in Europe, China, and Canada, could be the oil that greases Schulze’s takeover bid.
Despite some moderate successes, Best Buy International has never generated impressive returns, certainly nothing that approaches the United States, where the company produces about a four percent return on invested capital.
With its weak economy and perpetual Euro crisis, Europe has been a nightmare for Best Buy. But even sales in Canada and China, where Best Buy owns the successful Five Star local electronics chain, has slowed considerably in recent months.
Best Buy recently reported that international second quarter sales at stores open for at least a year fell a whopping 8.2 percent, “driven by the lower growth in consumer spending in China and the continued impact from the expiration of government sponsored programs, which negatively impacted sales in Five Star. Market softness in notebooks, digital imaging and home theater in Canada also contributed to the International comparable store sales decline.”
Even in a weak global environment, a sale of Best Buy’s assets in Europe and China alone could fetch nearly $1 billion, David Strasser, an analyst with Janney Capital Management, wrote in a recent research note.
Jettisoning Best Buy International to preserve Best Buy’s core U.S. business is a trade Schulze would be more than willing to make.
Even new Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly doesn't seem particularly attached to the retailer’s global business, a stark change from his predecessors: G. Mike Mikan and Brian Dunn. Both men had touted overseas expansion, especially in China, as a key part of the company’s long term growth prospects.
“One of the key strategic questions is what is the purpose of being global?,” Joly told the Star Tribune in recent interview. “Retailing is not necessarily a global business. Is being global or multinational a strategic advantage or is it just a collection of countries?”
“I am going to take my time to study this,” Joly continued. “I would be surprised if my primary focus won’t be on the U.S. business. It’s by far the biggest. We will, over time, take a look at international and what we will do with it.”