Thursday, March 20, 2008

Borders Conference Call Update

After this morning’s conference call I was still as much in the dark as to the reasoning behind the rapid run for cash at Borders. In discussing the funding deal on the call both CEO Jones and CFO Wilhelm commented they saw business was falling off late in the fourth quarter which, coupled with the failure to sell the Australian/New Zealand operations led them to believe vendors (in particular) would be worried about their financial health. There is no reason to believe the latter would have happened. When asked directly they admitted this has not been a factor in their dealings with publishers. They also noted that there are other organizations interested in purchasing the Australian operations and they are confident that they will consummate a deal in the short term.

They spent a lot of time on the call congratulating themselves that the basic elements of their strategic plan is going according to plan such as STS have improved 2.1% at Borders and 1.2% at Walden. The international stores improved 7% - possibly partly due to currency.

So to recap: They think there is a little market slow down, they had a hiccup in realizing a $120mm asset sale but they mortgaged a quarter of the value of the company to gain some short term cash when it isn’t clear they needed it. The company plans to sell parts or all of itself to maximize shareholder value but there is no timetable set against that pledge (other than that tied to the loan conditions).

Jones did emphasize that they continue to operate in a highly promotion driven environment and this impacts gross margin. One analyst asked where the balance existed between continuing to drive top line revenues (comp store growth) and gross margin erosion. Jones said they do want to improve gross margins but they won’t be doing it via a reduction in promotion spend or a reduction in the rewards program. Perhaps holding back on some of this spending, further reducing their capital spending and slowing some of the web role out would have eliminated the need for the capital infusion.

Other items of interest from the call:

Jones announced the web site is set to launch May 3rd and the integration with stores - ‘cross brand strategy’ – will also roll out to in-store kiosks.

Aside from the financing they believe there exist other operational improvements that will lead to cash generation

EBITDA from Paperchase and the A/NZ operations is about $30mm

Asked whether Pershing is an insider, Wilhelm quickly said they have a representative on the board but did not affirm whether they should be considered an insider. They said they reviewed other financing options before setting on Pershing and the package had the approval of the board.

Asked about full year performance Wilhelm said they wouldn’t give guidance but that there were many opportunities available to them to improve results. He believes they will improve but perhaps not as fast as anticipated earlier in 2007.

Speaking about the margin Jones said that they were “absolutely paying attention to margin”. He noted favorable things happening in the sales mix: Paperchase, cafĂ©, bargain books: Music falling but it is low margin. He said they are “still playing with promotional mix” and that the market very promotional.

1 comment:

April L. Hamilton said...

I've long felt that since Amazon came on the scene, brick-and-mortar bookstores' days were numbered. They can't compete on price nor selection, and nowadays it seems books are the least of their offerings among all the CDs, DVDs, games, candy, stationery, toys and even cosmetics.

I'm an author who's recently gone independent, a decision supported in large part by the brick-and-mortar stores' slow decline. Other than physical store shelf space (which isn't even a guaranteed reward of mainstream publication nowadays), what do mainstream publishers have to offer their authors anymore? Unless you're a celebrity or bestselling author you're on your own to promote your work, and independently-published authors earn 3x the author royalty (or more!) of their mainstream counterparts. My books are doing just fine with online sales alone, both in terms of sales and reviews.

Now that the publishing industry is totally dominated by a handful of media megaconglomerates, it's run like the movie business: on fear and risk-aversion. When this happened in the music and film industries, lively independent movements sprang up to fill the void. Such a movement in authorship is long overdue, and inevitable, now that so much quality work is being shoved to the margins by publishers and so many excellent, affordable tools exist for authors to produce, promote and distribute their own work.
April L. Hamilton