Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Borders Reports Improvement

While the sale of their Australia and New Zealand operations is still unconfirmed despite spurious reports to the contary, their most likely acquirer has cleared regulatory approval in New Zealand. Pacific Equity Partners has recieved clearance from the Commerce Commission indicating that they do not believe a combination of Whitcoulls and Borders would decrease competition in the NZ book market. Next up is Australia's Competition commission which may rule in early December. An announcement on the sale is expected any day.

Borders announced third-quarter results after the market close yesterday reporting a revenue increase of 5.3% to $805.2 million from $771 million a year earlier. Analysts' consensus estimates were expecting higher revenues ($831million) and better operating performance so we will see how the stock does on Wednesday. Their net income loss for the period included the previously announced one time charge for the sale of their UK operations ($116.5million) and thus the loss for the quarter was $161.1million or $2.74 per share. This compares with a loss in the same period last year of $32.9million or $0.54 per share. Excluding the one-time charge, the company reported an operating loss of $39.1million or $0.66 per share.
Comparable store sales increased in all business segments for the second consecutive quarter. At Borders domestic superstores, same-store sales increased by 1.1% driven largely by a continued increase in traffic as the company further leveraged its 22-million-member Borders Rewards database, among other initiatives. Comparable store sales increased by 3.6% in the Waldenbooks Specialty Retail segment led by growth in traffic and transaction size. In the International segment, comparable store sales increased by 7.8% as a result of strong performance in Asia Pacific stores

Borders' gross margin is eroding as they expand their Border's Reward program. More customers are visiting the stores but they are also recieving discounts and these redemptions are exceeding rate (by design) that occured last year. For the quarter, the company lost almost 1% on gross margin and this on top of the actual expense for promoting and expanding the new rewards plan. Clearly the company needs to invest in new customer acqusition and retention programs but Analysts will watching this program closely for its effectiveness in driving store metrics closer to those achieved by B&N.

Troubling will be the doubling of the operating loss at the US Borders super stores where the company reported a $30.8million loss compared to a loss of $16.7million. This negative performance was blamed on the member program and rapidly declining DVD/Music sales. Books were up 3% but clearly considerably less than the revenue required to cover the investment. George Jones commented on these results:

"Profitability in the Borders domestic superstore segment was negatively impacted by investments we are making now -- in efforts such as our upcoming e-commerce site and concept store development -- that are currently not providing returns, but will drive contributions in the long term," Jones said. "We have also been experimenting with our promotions and discount structure to gain a solid understanding of the levers that drive traffic and sales in our stores. Our Borders Rewards program has proven that it clearly and consistently works to achieve both. Now, we need to fine-tune our approach further so that we better balance the bottom-line impact with our top-line growth," he added.
The Borders share price has fallen from a mid-year high of $24 to its current $12. Correspondingly, the company's market cap is now below $715mm which in my estimation makes it a cheap acquisition candidate.

Full press release

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