Kohl’s confirms receipt of takeover bids, stock price soars

Kohl’s headquarters
Kohl’s headquarters in Menomonee Falls.

Last updated on January 25th, 2022 at 11:30 am

Menomonee Falls-based Kohl’s Corp. confirmed today that it has received multiple “letters expressing interest” in buying the company.

The statement follows a series of reports over the weekend that Kohl’s fielded unsolicited offers from two groups: Acacia Research Corp. and Sycamore Partners.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Acacia Research, a group backed by activist investor firm Starboard Value, made an offer to acquire Kohl’s for $64 a share, or about $9 billion. And on Sunday, Bloomberg News reported that private equity firm Sycamore Partners also approached Kohl’s, with a bid of at least $65 a share, according to CNBC.

“The Kohl’s Board of Directors will determine the course of action that it believes is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders. Shareholders are not required to take any action at this time,” the company said Monday.

Kohl’s stock opened Monday at $61.71, jumping more than 30% from $46.84 at the close on Friday, Jan. 21. Kohl’ s operates 1,162 department stores in 49 states.

According to Bloomberg, talks with Sycamore are “preliminary and might not result in a transaction.” The New York-based firm has a history of retail acquisitions, including Staples in 2017; Coldwater Creek in 2014; Hot Topic in 2013; and Talbots in 2012, among others, according to its website. Meanwhile, Acacia isn’t as well known and has made offers for small technology companies, reported Bloomberg. 

Kohl’s is now weighing its options amid renewed pressure from activist investor Macellum Capital Management, which is accusing Kohl’s board of directors and executive leadership for “materially mismanaging the business and failing to implement necessary operational, financial and strategic improvements. In an open letter last Tuesday, Macellum, which owns a 5% stake in the company, blamed the board for a 22% drop in Kohl’s stock price since April 2021. Macellum was part of the activist investor group that attempted to take control of its board last year. 

Macellum said it plans to nominate a slate of independent board candidates for election at the 2022 annual meeting if Kohl’s does not agree to make further changes to its board and financial position. What’s more, the firm said Kohl’s should consider a sale of the company if the company ignores the firm’s suggestions, which includes monetizing $4 billion of its real estate and returning the proceeds to shareholders through a buy-back program.  

“We think the board will need to consider seriously any credible offers,” wrote Morningstar analyst David Swartz in an analyst note Monday morning.

Swartz’s note provides additional context about Kohl’s two suitors: Sycamore took Belk department store chain private in a $3 billion deal in 2015, and Starboard launched an activist campaign against Macy’s in 2016, where it pressured the company to monetize its real estate. Reuters reports that the hedge fund and Acacia may partner with Oak Street Real Estate Capital to sell Kohl’s properties if a deal is made. 

Swartz said he believes Macellum and other activist investor shareholders will support a takeover of the company.

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Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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