Friday, May 23, 2008

Borders Update

Borders held its annual meeting yesterday and CEO George Jones refused to be drawn on where the company was in its strategic review. Later the company released a press release saying as much (or little):

In response to recent inquiries, Borders Group, Inc. (NYSE: BGP) today reported that the company is in the midst of the strategic alternatives process and has not engaged in substantive discussions regarding any specific transaction to date. The company does not intend to make any further comment while the process is ongoing.
There has also been an inordinate amount of interest in the reports of B&N taking a look at the Borders business. Few reports seem to offer any kind of analysis on the merits of any type of combination and even fewer seem interested in a wondering who the 40 or so other companies/entities are that have indicated some level of interest.

At the meeting, Jones was quoted as saying: "The investments that we've made during the past year ... certainly affected our financial performance in 2007... We feel that this is the year when we'll start reaping some of those benefits." (FreePress) It has always been a wonder to me that this company continues to invest in an expensive 'bet the company' revamp of its retail presence (off and on-line) while management is claiming they are cash strapped. As an investor, you would expect to reap all those benefits but not only could their timing not be worse but management don't appear to know when to both change course or ratchet back on the spending throttle.

In the UK, high street retailer WH Smiths have been linked with a bid for Paperchase. Reports suggest a value of $100mm (some say higher some say lower). The best thing that could happen for Borders is for PE to buy the whole thing. Only months ago, Paperchase was viewed as a key component of the company's future business strategy but having needlessly mortgaged the business, Jones and co have backed themselves into a corner where selling assets that should be supporting them in a downturn is considered as viable solution to their problems. Rest in peace.

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