Private equity firms, rev your engines! The time has come to drive out to the Wendy's
Yes, the third-largest burger chain announced that it was forming a special committee to explore strategic alternatives. Let me go out on a limb here and predict that these moves won't involve going with round beef patties or changing Wendy's icon from a redhead to a brunette. This is a company that is still struggling for a marketing identity since Dave Thomas passed away, so handing out the bidding cards makes perfect sense.
Company Chairman James V. Pickett said in last night's press release that: "The Company has made progress executing its strategic plan. ... The Board's formation of the special committee is a positive step in Wendy's continuing efforts to further enhance value for its shareholders, franchisees and other stakeholders. The special committee will review strategic options while management continues to focus on executing Wendy's current strategic plan to revitalize the brand and improve results at every restaurant in the system."
The announcement came as the company posted reasonable March quarter results, but we can't talk earnings until we talk about the acquisitive juices that are flowing quicker than bubbly root beer spilling over a vanilla Frosty float.
The buoyancy of burgers
Sure, shareholder-enhancing moves may not involve an outright sale. However, the Wendy's cupboard is pretty bare after selling its Cafe Express and Baja Fresh chains and spinning off Tim Hortons
And the stock wouldn't surge 13% higher, the way it did last night, if this was simply about rolling out the lab-tested mocha-flavored Frosty.
The timing of putting itself on the block may seem fishier than one of the company's new -- and quite tasty -- fried Pacific cod sandwiches. Competing burger chains like McDonald's
For its part, Wendy's has scored positive comps for 10 consecutive months. Wendy's may also have an incremental winner if its national breakfast menu rollout is successful over the next two years. Burger King and McDonald's are greeting morning commuters with taters and java, so why should Wendy's be the one left standing with its chairs stacked on tables in the morning?
Unfortunately, the scary truth is that there were more Wendy's restaurant closures than openings this past quarter. The company still expects to earn between $1.26 a share and $1.32 a share this year, but it's not going to get too far with fewer units.
Besides, the McDonald's halo isn't working for all of the burger flippers. Smaller chains like Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
The food line starts here
Don't expect Burger King or McDonald's to come to the bidding party. Wendy's would also be a tough swallow for casual dining giants. Soft drink stars already learned their lesson about the conflicts of interest in owning chains to secure pouring rights.
This leaves the bidding pool to private equity funds. They're a rich bunch, so don't worry about their ability to foot the bill for Wendy's. The rub here is that they are usually pretty stingy bidders. Snapping up Wendy's for nearly 30 times forward earnings isn't all that savory, especially if the reason for putting itself on the block is that the future isn't all that bright.
Still, a prolific name on the public bidding block won't leave Wendy's a single maiden for too much longer. It may have to settle for less than shareholders think it's worth, but it's going to happen. Like its 4-Alarm Spicy Chicken sandwich, bells are starting to go off at Wendy's. If the price is right, those bells may become wedding bells to hungry private equity firms before long.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys the new chunky chicken salad sandwich at Wendy's, but he won't be making a buyout bid. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.