Remember when Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) was an Wall Street darling? The consumer electronics giant would wow investors quarter after quarter. Its superstores were always buzzing with people. It would trade confident smirks with Circuit City a few blocks away.
Well, that snapshot continues to fade.
The latest round of bad news out of Best Buy finds the company shaking up its corporate ranks as it paints a gloomy picture of its latest quarter.
Best Buy is doing away with its most senior layer of management. In a move to streamline operations, both the president of its U.S. business and the executive vice president of its U.S. operations will be leaving the struggling retailer.
The shakeup isn't the problem. The company isn't paying Hubert Joly a ton of money to admire the glistening iceberg as the Titanic sinks. Skeptics can argue that it's ironic that Best Buy was shelling out pointless retention bonuses to dozens of managers with no ties to actual performance -- only to shake up the Magic 8 Ball again -- but that's not Joly's fault. He wasn't even there.
No, the real problem here is that Best Buy is sinking.
The retailer is warning that comps for the current quarter that ends next week will be negative. Best Buy is saying that it will be consistent with the rates posted earlier in the year, as comps slipped 5.3% during the fiscal first quarter and 3.2% during the following quarter. Its gross profit will also shrink. The only thing that doesn't appear to be shrinking is the company's SG&A costs. Go figure. The result is that adjusted earnings will be "significantly" below the $0.47 a share it earned a year ago. Something tells me that we're looking at something far worse than the $0.36 a share that analysts were targeting before Wednesday night's release.
What can Best Buy do? It can't match Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) lean operating structure no matter how many layers Joly slashes, so it will never be able to offer competitive prices. Following RadioShack (OTC:RSHCQ) into small-box stores specializing in wireless sales -- Best Buy Mobile -- won't work. RadioShack took another hit this week after posting a quarterly deficit that was twice as large as analysts were forecasting.
The only way out rests in booted founder Richard Schulze's ability to round up enough private-equity firms to take Best Buy private, but it seems highly unlikely that he'll be able to talk smart investors into taking a chance on Best Buy's unwinnable model. A buyout certainly doesn't seem likely in the mid-$20s, as Schulze originally suggested this summer.
However, Best Buy needs to get a deal done and put retail investors out of their misery. This story isn't getting any better, and now the chain is just embarrassing itself.
There's no Circuit City to throw a confident smirk at anymore, and Best Buy needs to know it's holding a bad hand.
Best Buy is not a good buy
I entered a bearish CAPScall on Best Buy in Motley Fool CAPS last year. The call is beating the market so far -- because Best Buy is not. It's a gutsy call now, but I'll stick with it on paper. I wouldn't short Best Buy with real money.