What now for Nordstrom Inc.?
A special committee of the retailer’s board rejected the family’s buyout offer late Tuesday, closing the books on one chapter for the company, but opening up a new and uncertain story line.
The Nordstrom family’s unsuccessful bid to take the department store private leaves them right where they were — solidly in control, owing 31.3 percent of the company and holding the key management positions.
But there’s still the matter of evolving the company to meet the future.
That’s something the Nordstroms wanted to do away from the glare of Wall Street, where heavy investments to reinvent can hurt profits, draw the ire of investors and attract activists who think they can do it all better.
In presenting their first offer to the special committee this month, the family argued, “A transaction would ensure that the company has the flexibility to successfully navigate a challenging retail landscape at a critical time when the public market for retail stocks is highly volatile and increasingly focused on short-term results and risks.”
How far do they push it now that they seem to be destined to lead the firm through both a rocky retail landscape with investors peering over their shoulders?
The answer should become more clear in the months ahead now that the buyout process has come to what appears to be a certain end.
The committee said it terminated discussions with the Nordstrom family, which started to consider a buyout in June. That process led to an offer two weeks ago of $50 a share, or $8.4 billion.
A person familiar with the situation said that offer was sweetened, but it wasn’t enough.
“The special committee took this action because it could not reach agreement with the [family] group on an acceptable price for the company,” the retailer said.
The committee said, “Nordstrom is well positioned to capitalize on future opportunities to gain market share through its customer strategy, centered on three strategic pillars: providing a differentiated product offering; delivering exceptional services and experiences, and leveraging the strength of its brand.”
Brooke White, a spokeswoman for the family group, said: “They disagree with the outcome of this and are very disappointed that the board rejected what they believe to be a very fair offer. Having said that, they have always run Nordstrom with integrity and a full commitment and they’re committed to continuing to do so in the future.”
Nordstrom, which is generally seen as the strongest of the department store retailers, has worked diligently to stay up or ahead of the times and is continuing to spend to sharpen its technological edge.
The retailer said, “The special committee is confident that the company’s ability to leverage its digital capabilities and its local market assets of people, product, and place will support growth across both its full-price and off-price businesses.”
The family group included copresidents Blake Nordstrom, Peter Nordstrom, and Erik Nordstrom, president of stores James Nordstrom, chairman emeritus Bruce Nordstrom, and Anne Gittinger.
To finance the deal at $50, the Nordstroms were willing to put in $2 billion worth of stock they owned, while partner Leonard Green & Partners and its affiliates would have ponied up as much as $2 billion. Beyond that, banks submitted financing proposals which topped out at $7.5 billion in debt. But the debt was said to come at very high interest rates and observers wondered just what impact the interest payments might have on the company should the deal go through.
Shares of Nordstrom slipped 2.8 percent to $47.99 in after-hours trading.