By  on September 12, 2011

Gap Inc.’s second-largest institutional shareholder has jumped ship.

Asset management firm AllianceBernstein unloaded a total of 23.3 million shares of the retailer in July and August, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That leaves the investing firm with beneficial ownership of 1.1 million shares, or just 0.2 percent of those outstanding.

The stake was sold between June 30 and August 31, a period when Gap’s stock lagged the market, falling 8.2 percent as the S&P Retail Index slipped just 2.8 percent.

It’s unclear who bought the stake, but Sears Holdings Corp. chairman Edward S. Lampert has been keen on the company — which has been struggling to get namesake U.S. operations moving and ousted chief designer Patrick Robinson in May. The company’s comparable sales fell 6 percent last month.

Lampert is the architect of the Sears-Kmart merger and a noted value investor, although he has been criticized by some analysts who want to see more money invested in Sears and Kmart stores to improve the shopping experience.

Funds affiliated with Lampert held 35 million shares of Gap, or 5.8 percent of those outstanding, as of February. During the second quarter, one of those funds, RBS Partners, upped its stake in Gap by 3.3 million shares to 30.4 million shares, although it was unclear how that increase impacted Lampert’s overall holdings in the company. RBS is currently Gap’s largest institutional shareholder.

Shares of Gap inched up 1.3 percent to $16.20 Monday.

Representatives for Gap and Lampert could not be immediately reached.

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