Kohl’s directors considering taking company private

Rick Romell and Paul Gores
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee – — Directors of Kohl’s Corp., which has been struggling to regain at least some of the growth that once made the company a retailing star, are weighing the possibility of going private, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Citing a person familiar with the situation, the paper said directors are debating whether to hire an investment bank to explore alternatives that could include sale to a private equity firm. The discussions are preliminary and may not lead to such action, the paper reported.

But New York-based retail consultant Howard Davidowitz said the considerable cash flow Kohl’s generates makes it attractive to potential buyers.

“Kohl’s is a target,” he said. “They will be a target, and I think the board is trying to figure out should they be proactive or reactive.”

A Kohl’s representative said the company, which reports earnings next month, is in a quiet period and cannot comment.

The report of discussions by the board comes as Kohl’s stock has plunged from a briefly held peak, and as the firm tries to lift its long-sluggish performance with an initiative it calls its “Greatness Agenda.”

Brick and mortar merchants continue to struggle amid the onslaught of online competition and what some analysts say is a consumer trend to spend less on apparel — a staple of department stores — and more on electronics and experiences.

Macy’s Inc., which, like Kohl’s, formerly had been a stellar performer, has said November and December sales at its Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores fell 4.7 percent. Online competitor Amazon, meanwhile, has posted enormous growth numbers.

Earlier this month, analyst Oliver Chen, of Cowen and Company, reduced his quarterly estimate for Kohl’s. He cited the impact of warm weather on outerwear sales, Kohl’s aggressive price promotions, satellite imagery showing traffic weakness, and some concern that the “Star Wars” licensed products the retailer is featuring won’t match the interested generated last year by the “Frozen” line.

Kohl’s stock has indeed dropped more than 40 percent from its high of $79.07 last April 2. But that peak capped a relatively short run of only about six months, sparked largely by the company’s strong performance during the 2014 holiday quarter.

For most of the last five years, Kohl’s shares generally have bounced between $45 and $55 — territory to which they have returned.