Meanwhile, Federated on Friday said a potential Fingerhut buyer came forth late Thursday with an offer for the subsidiary, while a previous suitor backed out. Neither party was identified nor were their offers.
As for news of a pending lawsuit by institutional investors, a Federated spokeswoman said: “We haven’t heard anything about it and we hope that it is not the case because it would be severely detrimental to our efforts to find a viable buyer for Fingerhut.”
The lawsuit, apparently set to be filed in Minneapolis federal court in Fingerhut’s home state of Minnesota, is expected to allege that Federated misled shareholders about the state of Fingerhut’s operations and particularly its receivables, or money owed the company by customers, and that this amount has been overvalued, according to sources. The lawsuit is seeking “many millions” of dollars in damages.
On Jan. 16, Federated announced that it was selling Fingerhut, which it bought three years before at the height of the Internet boom for a pricey $1.7 billion. The department store chain never was able to turn Fingerhut into a moneymaker. From the Fingerhut sale, the company said it expects to generate about $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion in aftertax proceeds over four years.
The lawsuit, while intended to compensate shareholders, could also forestall Federated from liquidating Fingerhut and encourage potential buyers, one source said. The company employs 6,000 workers overall, 4,700 in Minnesota, and has deep roots in the state, where it’s seen as a key financial backstop to the farming economy of St. Cloud and other communities where it operates. The company was founded in 1948.
Federated has already issued a 60-day notice of closure for Fingerhut’s employees, a legal obligation that would be suspended if a buyer is found, a Fingerhut spokesman said. The spokesman said Fingerhut and its subsidiaries, including Arizona Mail Order, Popular Club and Figi’s, have issued their last catalogs.
“We are still taking orders,” the spokesman said. “We are still opening new accounts and we’re really kind of waiting to see what will happen.”
The fate of Fingerhut also has caught the interest of Minnesota’s congressional delegation. Democrat Sen. Paul Wellstone last month wrote Federated’s vice chairman of finance and real estate Ronald W. Tysoe about concerns over the initial announcement that the company planned to pull the plug on Fingerhut.
“If you are not willing to reconsider your decision to close, I am urging you in the strongest terms possible to not liquidate, but to sell the company,” Wellstone wrote.
Tysoe replied on Feb. 4 that Federated’s “strong preference” is to sell Fingerhut. Barring any offers, he wrote: “We are taking measured steps to prepare for the wind down of the Fingerhut catalog operation. However, nothing we are doing at this stage of the process would be irreversible nor would it have a material negative impact on the business should a buyer emerge.”
According to published reports, Peter Lytle, a turnaround expert, was among potential Fingerhut buyers, as is Tom Petters, chairman of Redtagbiz Inc. An investment group led by Paul Ellarby of Minneapolis has already dropped out as a potential buyer.