Maybe the second time will be the charm.
The Nordstrom family started exploring the possibility of taking Nordstrom Inc. private last summer and partnered with buyout firm Leonard Green & Partners, only to suspend the process in October as the holidays drew near and worries about retail multiplied.
But now, they’re back at it, evaluating financing proposals from banks and sources said they could fare better with Christmas sales across retail coming in stronger than many feared. Nordstrom ran with or ahead of the pack over the holidays, with its net sales up 2.5 percent.
“The numbers were OK,” said one financial source. “I think it helped that the entire sector didn’t blow up. All the banks submitted updated financing packages [the week of Feb. 19].”
That makes this a key period when the financing will be scrutinized and the path forward could become much more clear. Nordstrom is set to report fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday.
Shares of Nordstrom jumped 6.5 percent to $53.56 Friday after WWD reported the process was drawing to a close.
Nordstrom has an enterprise value of $10.4 billion, including $8.4 billion in company shares and total debt of $2.7 billion, according to S&P Capital IQ.
The company is said to be able to hold as much as $7 billion worth of debt, but the greater the debt load and the higher the interest payments, the harder it will for the retailer to dig itself out.
Nordstrom is generally seen as the most likely to succeed out of the department store bunch, with a premium stance, a strong customer service ethos, more than $15 billion in sales and a manageable debt load.
Being private would help the company more-readily experiment with new ideas, like the Nordstrom Local concept in West Hollywood that carries no inventory, or bold moves, like its still-to-come New York flagship.
The management team is known to be among the most forward thinking of the big retailers and have been trying to lean in to the future, for instance, buying HauteLook and Trunk Club, although with mixed results.
Clearly, more changes afoot and the company wants to be ready.
At the WWD CEO Summit in October, copresident Pete Nordstrom, noted: “About 26 percent of all business we do is online. I think it’s reasonable to assume we will probably be doing half of our business online in the next five years or so. It’s growing at that kind of rate.”
But the dangers of too much debt are all too clear in retailing.
Luxe department store Neiman Marcus, the subject of two consecutive private equity buyouts, has worked mightily to manage its $4.8 billion debt load. And the more mainstream department store Bon-Ton Stores Inc. succumbed to bankruptcy this month after a long struggle.
The space between having the flexibility to move with the times and the ability to manage the debt load is the line the Nordstrom’s will have to walk.
Making that judgment will be the extended Nordstrom clan, including copresidents Blake Nordstrom, Peter Nordstrom, and Erik Nordstrom, president of stores James Nordstrom, chairman emeritus Bruce Nordstrom, and Anne E. Gittinger. Together they control just under one-third of the retailer’s stock.