Burt Tansky

The Neiman Marcus Group will sell its private label credit card business to HSBC-North America's Retail Services for about $640 million.

NEW YORK — The Neiman Marcus Group Inc. is selling its private label credit card accounts and related assets to HSBC-North America’s Retail Services for about $640 million in what the companies said was “a strategic alliance to support and enhance the credit operations of Neiman’s and its subsidiaries.”

The purchase price for the credit card operation includes about $527 million in net cash proceeds and the assumption or repayment of an estimated $113 million of securitization liabilities. In addition, Neiman’s said it would receive unspecified payments from HSBC based on credit sales.

The transaction could help finance the $5.1 billion acquisition of NMG by Texas Pacific Group and Warburg Pincus LLC, two private equity firms, and possibly provide capital for store openings and remodeling. The TPG acquisition has caused speculation about Neiman’s future, and how the owners will shape the business and cover the debt load.

There is a growing trend among retailers to sell credit operations to propel growth and create healthier, less leveraged balance sheets. Federated Department Stores Inc., which is acquiring May Department Stores Co., said last week it would sell its credit portfolio and the May portfolio to Citigroup for $4.5 billion. Kohl’s Corp. and Sears, Roebuck & Co. already have sold their credit operations, as well, among other chains.

Neiman’s, which is known for its attention to customers and details, said it would continue to handle key customer service functions, including new account processing, transaction authorization, billing adjustments, collection services and customer inquiries. The retailer and HSBC also will enter into a long-term relationship, whereby Neiman’s receives compensation for certain marketing and servicing activities.

Neiman Marcus and its Bergdorf Goodman division have a total of about three million accounts.

Selling off the credit portfolio, according to Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at Kurt Salmon Associates, “is a perfectly logical financial device to fund new investment and reduce debt.” The credit card portfolio is “a big asset, and selling it does not decrease the value of the operating business. It’s transparent to customers, and the sale has no negative effect to the business operations.”

In a statement, Burt Tansky, president and chief executive officer of NMG, said, “Our customers can expect the same outstanding customer service they have always received from Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, while HSBC will provide us with additional operational and marketing capabilities to support our continued growth.”

This story first appeared in the June 9, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Joseph Hoff, ceo of HSBC Retail Services, added, “Helping our partners grow through enhanced customer relationships is what drives us at HSBC, and we are looking forward to reinforcing and extending the Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman brands through every aspect of the private label card programs. Our marketing, database analytics and CRM expertise, combined with our investments in technology, allow us to support a positive customer experience across all the critical interactions that the Neiman Marcus Group has with its customers.”

The deal is expected to close by July 31, pending regulatory reviews and closing conditions.

In addition to the Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman stores, NMG operates a print catalogue and online division. The catalogue and online businesses are said to be the fastest-growing units in the company, but there are opportunities to open stores in the U.S. in key affluent metro areas where Neiman’s may have just one site, or none. Smaller boxes also might be considered, a change from the current model of operating large stores with major designer presentations.

HSBC Retail Services is a major issuer of private label credit cards for stores. Other major operators of retail credit card businesses are General Electric Credit Corp. and Citigroup.

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