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Everyone has heard about the battle between Men's Wearhouse (NYSE: MW ) and Jos. A. Bank Clothiers (NASDAQ: JOSB ) . While this may make interesting reading, it could prove distracting as the two companies duke it out. Meanwhile, luxury retailer Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN ) may emerge as the ultimate winner for shareholders.
In the all-important vote, the one involving your pocketbook, choosing the least interesting story may very well prove to be the most profitable.
A solid company
Nordstrom sells to an upscale clientele. However, it has a competitive advantage. The company provides extraordinarily good customer service.
The company has been chugging along. Heading into the holiday season, revenue for the nine months increased 4.7%, to $8.8 billion, and net income grew 3.3%, to $466 million. However, thanks to share buybacks, diluted earnings per share did better, rising to $2.35, 8.3%
Same store sales grew 2.5% for the first nine months, the same rate management expects for the entire year. While this may not seem great, this is compared to a strong 7.3% increase in 2012. Earnings are expected to be $3.65 to $3.70 a share, 2.5% to 4% higher than 2012. This obviously is not spectacular growth this year.
However, Nordstrom's is also investing in initiatives that should help boost sales growth going forward. These include a multi-channel approach, with direct sales growing by 29%, following two years of at least 30% growth. Its Rack business, off-price stores, showed 16% growth as it opened 18 new stores. HauteLook, an online site that offers limited time sale events, has tripled its membership since 2011, to 15 million members. Despite these investments, free cash flow was almost $100 million for the first nine months of 2013.
Women's apparel has been a strong category for Nordstrom's, growing faster than the overall company. The retailer has implemented changes, such as focusing on key brands. As Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank focus on the takeover battle and defensive postures, there is room for Nordstrom's to step in. For instance, while women's apparel comprised 31% of 2012 sales, men's apparel was only 16%.
A Scorecard: Keeping track
A quick review of the Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank situation will be helpful since the situation has been evolving. First, George Zimmer, the founder and CEO, was forced out in June. Zimmer and the board had an ensuing war of words. Then, in August, it was reported the jilted executive was talking to private equity players about buying out the company. Proving turnabout is fair play, Men's Wearhouse is trying to purchase Jos. A. Bank.
Jos. A Bank was intrigued, and put in its own offer to purchase the retailer in early October. The all-cash proposal offered $48 a share, or an equity value of $2.3 billion. While Jos. A Bank thought this was a very fair offer, since it as 42% above the closing price on September 17, right before it made its proposal, it was promptly rejected by the Men's Wearhouse board.
No one can accuse these companies of keeping things boring. In late-November, Men's Wearhouse became the aggressor, making a $55 all-cash offer for Jos. A Bank. This equated to an enterprise value of $2.1 billion, and a 45% premium to what Men's Wearhouse called the unaffected enterprise value.
There has been a lot of jostling back and forth, including Jos. A Bank rejecting the bid, a hostile $57.50 bid from Men's Wearhouse, and the latter seeking two board seats.
It is hard for employees, from top managers to lower levels, to be motivated and try to improve operations. After all, the stakes are high, and each company has its share of distractions. Hedge fund Eminence Capital, which owns stakes in both companies, clearly would like to see a deal. Who could blame top management for not being laser focused on making strategic decisions and following-up to see if the plan's goals are being met?
An investment in Nordstrom's stock may require patience, but this could very well pay off. The stock price has muddled along for a while, but trades at 16 times earnings. In addition, shareholders can collect a 2% dividend, which has been raised every year since 2010. It currently pays $1.20 a share.
You can read about the battle between Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank. However, when it comes to investing, chances are you will come out a winner buy buying a quality company trading at a reasonable price.