Land & Buildings Investment Management LLC is pressuring Hudson’s Bay Co. again.
In a letter Thursday to HBC shareholders, Jonathan Litt, founder and chief investment officer of Land & Buildings and an activist shareholder, urged HBC to act faster on monetizing real estate, questioned whether HBC has the right board and leadership in place, and noted that HBC stock has remained flat while competitors such as Macy’s have seen share price increases.
Since last November, Land & Buildings has kept quiet on the Toronto-based HBC, due to a settlement agreement with HBC that expired after HBC’s annual meeting held June 12.
Litt contends that Hudson’s Bay’s real estate is worth $31 per share, based on the company’s disclosed third-party valuations of its vast real estate portfolio, and that the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan alone is worth more than where the stock currently trades. The stock last traded at 5.39 dollars Canadian.
Litt writes that, “In 2018 thus far, the department store index is up nearly 40 percent while Hudson’s Bay’s share price is nearly flat year-to-date. It has become clear that the familiar refrain blaming the challenges of the macro retail environment no longer rings true. Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Restoration Hardware are just a few retailers/department store peers that have adjusted their strategies and are delivering results….Macy’s stock price is up more than 50 percent year-to-date after effectively managing through the retail macro environment, reporting strong operating results and raising its full-year financial guidance.”
Litt commended Macy’s real estate strategy including its agreement with Brookfield Asset Management to examine alternative uses for many Macy properties and added, “One could even reasonably ask whether the most logical course for HBC at this point would be an acquisition by Macy’s as opposed to trying to play catch up.”
Regarding HBC’s new management, including the recent appointment of chief executive officer Helena Foulkes, and chief financial officer Edward Record, “We are still in a ‘wait and see’ mode when it comes to the new management team.”
Litt questioned whether her background in the drug store industry is the right fit for turning around HBC. Many in the industry regard Foulkes as a seasoned retailer with a successful track record. And Foulkes has previously stated that “there are no sacred cows” at HBC and that she and the team are committed to making the right business decisions to drive improved performance at HBC.
Litt noted that Rhône Capital, which has a minority stake in HBC, has two representatives on HBC’s board, and has “significant economic interest in unlocking value at Hudson’s Bay. We see this as another indicator that the opportunity is now greater for real, value-enhancing change to be delivered at the company.”
And at HBC’s annual meeting, one shareholder contended that HBC wasn’t acting fast enough to capitalize on its real estate and should build condos on its Toronto property.
But HBC has taken certain actions over the last few years to monetize its real estate, including the sale and lease back of its Queen Street flagship in Toronto from Cadillac Fairview, which bought the property for $650 million in 2014. In addition, WeWork is taking the seventh and eighth floors of the Queen Street flagship, Baker said at the annual meeting, noting that the plan there reflects “our general focus around the world is to better utilize existing space rather than selling off particular pieces.” It is also seeking to sell its Hudson’s Bay flagship in Vancouver but plans to lease it back.
HBC is selling its Lord & Taylor flagship on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for $850 million to WeWork Property Advisors, a joint venture between WeWork and Rhône Capital, which also agreed to make a $500 million equity investment in HBC. The entire L&T flagship will shut down by early 2019. The deal with WeWork is expected to be completed later this year. WeWork is expected to create a new complex on the lower levels that could include retail, food and beverage, but has yet to comment on the plan.
In a rare public appearance, Lord & Taylor’s president Vanessa LeFebvre showed up in the flagship’s Fifth Avenue window via a big portrait of herself, accompanied by a letter which said, “At Lord & Taylor, we will always put you first. We will continue to be your store and you can count on us.” The letter informed customers of the early 2019 closing, and said that the other locations and lordandtaylor.com “will continue to serve you beyond then.”
HBC declined comment on Litt’s letter Thursday.