Wall Street is pushing William L. McComb, chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne Inc., to sell something — be it Kate Spade, Liz Claiborne, Mexx or a wholesale business.
And he just might. McComb’s spent four years structuring the company so its businesses, including Kate Spade, Lucky Brand and Juicy Couture, were “cleavable”— but said the timing is not yet right.
At the company’s investor conference in New York Thursday, McComb was pressured to unlock some of the value in the relatively small but fast-growing Kate Spade business, which many see as the most promising piece of Claiborne’s portfolio.
A conference attendee asked McComb: “What is stopping the company from highlighting some portion of that value [in Kate Spade], whether it’s a small portion of a sub-[initial public offering], spinning to shareholders, something like that so everybody can benefit? People need to understand there’s a lot of operational risk in this strategy and the more you wait the more risk you take.”
McComb quipped that it was more of a statement than a question, but went on to say, “It’s something that we look at and we talk about and we consider. If we felt it was wobbly we might take advantage of it right now. But I think a year from now you might thank us for holding off and doing it a year from now. I’m not saying it’s a 10-year project. I’m not saying it’s a five-year project.”
On Mexx, Claiborne’s largest and most troubled business, McComb said the company was looking at options to “de-risk,” perhaps through a joint-venture ownership structure that would move the business outside the U.S. public company.
On a conference call Wednesday afternoon, an analyst asked if J.C. Penney Co. Inc. might buy the Liz Claiborne brand this year, speeding up the timetable for a potential sale envisioned in Claiborne’s licensing deal with the retailer. “I’ve had a lot of people ask that question,” McComb said, leaving it open as a possibility.
If the company were to sell off a business it would be able to shrug off some of its financial obligations — it has $133.5 million in borrowings coming due over the next year and more than $500 million in long-term debt.