Let's Put Best Buy Out of Its Misery

It's been two years since Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) founder Richard Schulze approached the consumer electronics retailer's board about a buyout. He was starting to round up private equity investors to take Best Buy private. It never panned out, but after this morning's gloomy quarterly report, it may be time to start exploring a new exit strategy.

Revenue fell 3% to $9.035 billion in its latest quarter. The reported 1.3% slide in domestic comps was actually closer to 3% at the physical store level since the retailer conveniently allocates the $141 million in additional online revenue across its superstores. Either way, Best Buy fell short of Wall Street's target of $9.2 billion in sales.

The news was better at the other end of the income statement as a surprising uptick in operating margins resulted in an adjusted profit of $0.33 a share. Analysts were only holding out for net income of $0.20 a share.

However, any good momentum that a bottom-line beat could've generated was dashed by the company's gloomy outlook for the next couple of quarters. Best Buy sees comparable sales clocking in negative once again during the second and third fiscal quarters. 

"We are also expecting ongoing softness in the mobile phone category as consumers eagerly await highly anticipated new product launches," CFO Sharon McCollam points out, but let's stop right there. Isn't this what happens every year? The new iPhone comes out in late summer or early fall every year, so it's usually an apples-to-apples -- or Apple-to-Apple -- comparison.

It's against this backdrop that shares of Best Buy that had peaked at $44.66 late last year have fallen back to the levels at which Schulze was trying to take the chain private two years ago. He was looking to parlay his 20% stake, with private equity firms willing to acquire the balance of the company at $24 to $26 a share. The board rebuffed his advances with the stock in the high teens at the time. 

Best Buy's board instead chose to bring in a new CEO, and when Hubert Joly's charm resulted in the stock more than tripling through 2013, it was hard to question the board's decision to turn Schulze down. However, after back-to-back disappointing quarters and an ominous tone set for the next couple of quarters, isn't it time to explore a new way out?

Despite Joly's noble efforts, revenue, comps, adjusted earnings, and operating margins all ticked lower last year. Best Buy managed to turn the tide on two of those four fronts in this morning's report, but management's tone doesn't make it seem as if that will last. Best Buy shareholders could've walked away with as much as $26 in cash -- and possibly even more if negotiations progressed -- two years ago. Given today's uninspiring outlook, it doesn't seem as if the shares will get too much higher than that organically in the near term. If there's still an outlet to go private to attempt this messy turnaround behind the quarterly scrutiny of public investors, then Best Buy's board owes it to shareholders to explore the possibility.

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