It's decision time for Best Buy founder Richard Schulze.
Will he make an offer? Could he walk away? Whatever he does by the Feb. 28 deadline for a bid, the move will have a lasting impact on the world's largest consumer electronics retailer.
Should he make a bid and acquire Best Buy Co. Inc., the publicly traded company will return to its roots as a private chain of stores run by its original brain trust of Schulze, former CEO Brad Anderson and former President Al Lenzmeier. If he abandons his efforts to get his company back, he will cede the future of Best Buy to a new group of executives led by CEO Hubert Joly, who must redefine the electronics retailer for the digital age under the impatient scrutiny of shareholders.
"I think it would be a mistake (to go private) now," said David Strasser, an analyst with Janney Capital Management. "It's pretty obvious (Joly and his team) are focused on shareholder value."
But Schulze could go a number of other directions, say analysts, consultants and investors who follow the company. Here are five scenarios Schulze could pursue and how they might play out:
SCENARIO 1: Schulze makes an offer.
Since Best Buy stock is trading at about $17 a share, investors and analysts say Richard Schulze will need to offer at least $21 a share. The company could either negotiate with Schulze or let the offer stand. After 30 days, Schulze can seek shareholder approval or endorsement by calling a special shareholders meeting or change the board of directors through a proxy campaign leading up to the regular shareholders meeting in June.
Pro: If the deal goes through, investors get an immediate payout for their shares and Schulze can operate his company without "shareholders breathing down his neck," said Laura Kennedy, an analyst with Kantar Retail consulting firm in Boston. "Taking it private may still be best for the company. All of the forces that have challenged their business are still there."
Con: The prospect of a protracted proxy war between the board and Schulze continues to distract Best Buy and threatens to undo its fragile recovery.
Probability: Medium. Schulze may have already missed his chance to buy the company cheaply in December, when Best Buy traded as low as $11.40. And since Best Buy sales have stabilized, Schulze may have lost his rationale for taking Best Buy private.
SCENARIO 2: Schulze recruits minority investor.
Schulze gets an outside investor to purchase a stake in Best Buy and try to win a seat on the board. Schulze already has two seats.
Pro: Schulze strengthens his control over the company without having to borrow billions of dollars to acquire Best Buy.
Con: Depending on how many shares the investor acquires, it may not be enough for the board to grant the investor a seat.
Probability: High. After months of delays, Schulze and Best Buy say their prolonged dance actually produced something. A well-respected investor buying a sizable piece of Best Buy can fortify the company's share price. "It shows Mr. Schulze and his potential investment group's confidence in the new management team," Alan Rifkin, an analyst with Barclays, wrote in a recent research note.
SCENARIO 3: Schulze does nothing.
Confident that Hubert Joly is the right man to lead Best Buy, Schulze keeps his 20 percent stake and rejoins the board.
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