Myer better off with fewer stores: Geoff Wilson
One of the largest shareholders in struggling department store Myer has said it would "make sense" for the retailer to use the coronavirus shutdown as an opportunity to permanently shutter or shrink more stores across the country.
Veteran stockpicker and head of Wilson Asset Management, Geoff Wilson, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Myer would be better off closing more stores in an environment where consumers, especially younger Australians, focus on saving money rather than spending it.
Geoff Wilson says Myer should use the coronavirus closures to expedite the store restructuring process.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
"It would make sense for Myer management to take the opportunity to rationalise the store portfolio," he said.
Wilson Asset Management holds a 7.7 per cent stake in Myer and Mr Wilson said the retailer would have to tackle some "permanent changes to consumption" once the economy starts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Shrinking its physical footprint could see the iconic retailer shift further towards selling goods online, an area which management has been making a concerted push into over the past few years.
Late last Friday, Myer announced it would shut the doors of its 60 stores across Australia and stand down 10,000 staff, a decision chief executive John King said was one of the hardest the company has had to make in its 120-year history.
Shares on Monday rose 9.5 per cent to 12 cents following the announcement, with Mr Wilson saying the decision to close stores was "prudent management" given the low level of consumer demand. However, not all investors were soothed by the news.
JP Morgan analyst Shaun Cousins warned clients if the business did not receive rental relief from landlords it was at risk of breaching its banking covenants and will also face a 40 per cent hit to full-year earnings.
But following the government's weekend announcement about placing a moratorium on evictions and a tax break to help property owners, Mr Cousins said he wasn't forecasting a covenant breach at this stage.
"We believe there will be some rent relief provided," Mr Cousins told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. "Myer is a valued tenant, and having [it] remain in stores is a desire for many landlords."
Myer is already on a path to closing and shrinking stores, Mr Cousins said, believing the coronavirus would not necessarily expedite that process.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Myer's share price has plunged over 65 per cent, valuing the company at just $90 million. At this price, some are speculating a fresh takeover bid for the business.
Industry sources are predicting any interested parties may wait until the economy begins to recover from the virus before placing a bid, predicting other troubled businesses, such as Webjet and Flight Centre, could also be in investors' crosshairs.
"Once it starts to turn, you'll see a whole lot of activity from people sitting on cash going out and buying companies that are grossly undervalued," one well-placed source said.
However, Mr Cousins believes potential buyers have enough to deal with currently without thinking about potential acquisitions.
"They've probably got their hands full with their own businesses at the moment," he said.
A Myer spokesperson said there was no immediate risk to the company's covenants and the business was "engaging in ongoing discussions" with landlords to manage costs. The company said it had also seen "considerable growth" across its online store.
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