Dillard’s Inc. has an activist investor on its heels — again.
This time the activist is Snow Park Capital Partners, who is pushing the chain to do something with its real estate. Dillard’s is believed to own more than 80 percent of its store square footage, with about a quarter of its sites in what are considered A malls. One option Snow Park is pushing for is the leasing of the space to higher-paying tenants.
But investors don’t seem thrilled — they sent shares of Dillard’s down 6.4 percent to close at $73.82 in Big Board trading.
Snow Park holds about a 2 percent stake in the retailer’s Class A shares.
Snow Park’s managing partner Jeff Pierce said in an interview on Bloomberg TV that he believes the real estate owned by Dillard’s is worth north of $200 a share, far higher than the current share price of Dillard’s stock. How long Snow Park plans to fight its battle with Dillard’s is unclear. Activists haven’t been all that successful when it comes to unlocking value in real estate plays.
Dillard’s has been around this block before when it comes to its real estate assets. Back in 2008, activist investors Barington Capital and Clinton Group sought to push the department store chain to do sale-leasebacks. They also wanted to rejigger the board. But the activists had a hard time because the Dillard’s family controls the voting structure through Class B shares. The retailer ultimately settled with the activists, and — with an agreed-upon slate of Class A directors at the 2008 annual shareholders’ meeting — managed to avoid a proxy fight.
At the time of the settlement in April 2008, Dillard’s said it was “committed to reviewing whether the company’s real estate assets and capital are being optimally deployed to prudently build the most value per share for long-term owners.” To that end, the retailer specified the closure of underperforming stores, cut unnecessary costs and subject future commitments for new stores to strict return on capital requirements.
In other agitations on the retail front, Starboard Value’s Jeff Smith in January 2016 valued Macy’s real estate holdings at $21 billion. The hedge fund tried to get the department store retailer to spin off the real estate from its retail business. Macy’s disagreed, preferring the stability of owning its real estate and paying just the costs of operating the stores instead of higher rental bills. After failing to garner support from fellow investors, Starboard exited its stake in Macy’s in May.
Another fight that’s still in progress is Land and Buildings’ attempt to get Hudson’s Bay to sell some real estate holdings. Land and Buildings in May failed in its bid to get on Taubman Centers Inc.’s board and is now agitating the real estate investment trust for corporate governance improvements. Canada’s Hudson’s Bay operates Hudson’s Bay in Canada. It also owns American retailers Lord and Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.