Men's Wearhouse Takeover May Get Downright Ungentlemanly

Even though Men's Wearhouse (NYSE: MW  ) has already rejected one acquisition bid for $2.3 billion as merely an "opportunistic" attempt to eliminate a competitor, Jos. A. Bank (NASDAQ: JOSB  ) is still considering its options, and if the men's clothier won't submit to a gentleman's agreement to be bought out, then perhaps a hostile takeover taken directly to its rival's shareholders will do the trick.

Jos. A. Bank's chairman Robert Wildrick told Bloomberg he wants the acquisition "to happen on a friendly basis," but there are no options that aren't on the table.

The two men's retailers have different target markets that would provide a complementary synergy if the deal went through. Where Jos. A. Bank has an older, more upscale demographic, Men's Wearhouse caters to a younger clientele. The $46-per-share offer Bank made for its rival represented a 36% premium to Men's Wearhouse's stock at the time and would create a $3.5 billion company, which would better position them to take on rivals like Macy's, Wildrick said, which sells about $5.5 billion in suits annually.

According to NPD Group, tailored clothes for men recorded strong gains in the first half of the year, driving total men's apparel sales 6% higher and outpacing a 2.1% gain in women's fashion. Despite little movement in knits and woven shirts, suit separates surged 55% and sports coats were up 14% during the January to June period.

Yet both men's retailers could use some help as the quarters ending around the end of July saw poor performance. Jos. A. Bank saw sales fall more than 10% compared to last year, while Men's Wearhouse's revenues were down 2%. Over the first two quarters, the former's sales have fallen 7% and the latter's are up a little more than 1%, which might explain why Jos. A. Bank is trying to gain hold of its rival. Macy's didn't break out its sales for men's suits last quarter, but it did say the overall men's segment was one of its strongest performers.

While some of the slack sales last quarter might be because of the shift in the Easter holiday to the prior quarter, more likely it has to do with the weak economy and the lack of any progress on the jobs front. The participation rate -- those people who are still active in the workforce -- has fallen to a staggeringly low 63.2%, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, its lowest level in over three decades. At the same time, women are faring better in the job market than are men. Whereas men 20 years and older have an unemployment rate of 7.1%, women in that same age group exhibit a 6.3% rate and have recovered all the jobs they lost to the Great Recession; men are still some 2 million jobs under that base rate.

Catering to men's fashion has been gaining more traction in recent years, though, and it's spreading beyond just traditional businesswear. Coach, for example, has found a whole new stock in trade for men's leather goods. Retail sales geared toward men jumped nearly 50% to more than $600 million at retail in the handbag maker's 2013 fiscal year, accounting for 11% of its total sales -- more than double the percentage just two years ago.

Since there's still such a large and growing share of opportunity, the two retailers ought to be able to attack the market more effectively together than they've been doing separately, and there shouldn't be cause for the two to be so hostile to each other.

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