NEW YORK -- Wall Street's not buying the latest mega-merger talk.
Financial analysts and other market observers are less than convinced that the two predominate U.S. department store players -- Federated Department Stores Inc. and May Department Stores Co. -- will ever join forces to form an almost $30 billion giant, despite recent reports of talks between the two.
Accordingly, shares of Federated inched up 23 cents, or 0.5 percent, to close at $43.70 on Monday, while May Co.'s stock slid 16 cents, or 0.4 percent, to end the day at $36.48. Both issues trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
The possibility of such a combination was noted in these columns last month as the market considered the possibility of a sale of Dillard's following the Feb. 8 demise of founder William Dillard.
"I don't think the deal's going to happen -- ever," said Robert Buchanan, analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons. In addition to having "way too much overlap," he said the two firms are "very competitive and, frankly, don't like each other."
With both firms losing market share to lower-cost providers such as Kohl's Corp., he noted, the merger topic is "bound to come up" despite its drawbacks.
Midwest Research equity analyst Jeff Stinson agreed that a May Co.-Federated combination is unlikely.
"There are a lot of cultural differences," he said, as well as the question of who would ultimately lead the combined business. Still, he cautioned: "When you look at the department store industry you can really never say never."
Despite May Co.'s greater market capitalization -- $10.69 billion at Monday's close, compared to Federated's $8.38 billion -- Stinson noted: "It's tough to say who would have the upper hand" at the merger bargaining table.
There are also other, possibly more easily digested, acquisitions for both firms to make.
Retail consultant Walter Loeb of Loeb Associates said: "I expect we'll see more consolidations in the future. In Europe, there is typically only one department store operating in each country. In the U.S.A., we still have too many. However, I believe that before the big players merge, you'll first see the smaller players be absorbed by the larger ones."By reducing competition, a merger would put additional margin pressures on vendors. Accordingly, Todd Slater, retail and apparel analyst at Lazard Freres & Co., on Monday downgraded Jones New York to "hold" from "buy" in part from potential consolidation in the sector.
"A combination between the two giants of department store retailing would be a negative for Jones and other suppliers to these chains," he wrote. Slater concluded that the market would shrink for the vendors as consolidation would likely produce store closures, and that "a combination of this magnitude would enhance Federated and May Co.'s buying position, undermining Jones' ability to play one off against the other."
A recent research report by Lehman Bros.' analyst Robert Drbul pegged department stores as constituting 60 percent of Jones' volume.
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