- Hudson Bay Co.'s most vocal activist is still goading the department store retailer about its performance, stock price and as yet unsold real estate assets. In a letter dated Thursday, Jonathan Litt, founder of hedge fund Land & Buildings, questioned the company's leadership and said it needed to do more to keep up with its better-performing peers.
- Litt pointed to Nordstrom and Macy's as department store operators that have "adjusted their strategies and are delivering results," and which Hudson's Bay should learn from. Litt went so far as to suggest that Hudson's Bay could "join" Macy's but did not elaborate on the idea.
- As has become custom, Litt also took aim at the company's board and prodded it to unload more real estate assets. He noted that it was too early to evaluate the tenure of CEO Helena Foulkes, who joined in February, and Chief Financial Officer Edward Record, but said he was concerned that operational results haven't improved since they started. He also noted that Foulkes came to Hudson's Bay without department store experience.
It was only last year when Hudson's Bay — owner of the Saks, Lord & Taylor and Hudson's Bay store brands — was looking to potentially acquire a peer, with Macy's and Neiman Marcus both in play. Now, one of its most active investors seems to be suggesting Hudson's Bay might be better off under someone else's custody. (Of course, it could hardly be a coincidence that Hudson's Bay "joining" Macy's could result in Litt making a lot of money.)
What does it all mean? Maybe nothing. But since Litt and other investors began agitating last year, the retailer has made several moves. Then-CEO Jerry Storch left abruptly last fall (Litt implied at the time Storch was forced out by the board). It has sold its Manhattan Lord & Taylor flagship and the Vancouver flagship for its namesake brand. And it nearly sold its German unit.
Since Foulkes has taken over, she has brought in advisors to help revive its ailing Lord & Taylor brand and announced the company will close Lord & Taylor's luxury department store's iconic Manhattan flagship. (After announcing the sale of the property to WeWork last year, the company had initially said it would keep a downsized store at the site.) The company has also sold its Gilt e-commerce unit to Rue La La after buying it for $250 million in 2016.
The property and unit sales don't appear to be enough for Litt, who has pushed the company previously to sell its Saks Fifth Avenue flagship property in Manhattan. Litt pointed to Macy's own moves to sell property as a model. There is some irony there, given that Macy's last year faced heat from an activist wanting it to sell properties much faster and to include its crown jewels, including its Herald Square flagship.
Meanwhile, investors beyond Litt are losing their patience. The company's stock price has bounced around for much of the past year, hitting a 12-month low in March, ahead of the company's fourth quarter and 2017 earnings report. Foulke acknowledged later in the month that "things do need to change."
Meanwhile, Macy's, which has been expanding its off-price unit, investing in store experience and making provocative acquisitions, has seen its sales and stock price rise respectably over the past year.
Since Foulkes' comment, Hudson's Bay has seen Lord & Taylor and its off-price unit sink further, and its first quarter losses widened compared to the year before. (Saks, on the bright side, is doing booming business.) Until those numbers show change, the retailer should expect to hear more from its loudest investors.