Privateers win the day on Myer float

by | Nov 3, 2009 | Business

Myer. Oh dear. Market off 2.2 per cent. My Store off 8.5 per cent. No bloodbath … but not pretty, either.

You have to hand it to these private equity boys. They’ve skewered the punters good and hard, and the fund managers, too, although the latter get paid regardless of performance – and it’s not their money anyway.

It is hard not to admire the chutzpah of Myer’s vendors, TPG and Blum Capital, though. They watched the market bouncing. They knew they had a small window of opportunity when things got hot.

They sooled almost every broker in the market into the sales process – locking in their distribution (via broker firm allocations) and muting potential dissenters. They even wheeled out a model to help relieve the punters of their savings.

The Government had done its bit via the cash splash, putting a rocket under retail stock prices. Then, just before the market took a turn, and just as the fillip to retail spending from the stimulus was fading, the boys lock in a mighty $1.3 billion take. A quintessential private equity three-year-turnaround.

A classic sales job, except that TPG’s confreres in private equity land will not be happy punters this Melbourne Cup day. Nor their mates in capital markets.

Myer has spoilt the game for everybody. The retinue of floats in the pipeline such as Ascendia (the old Rebel Sport), Kathmandu and anything else lining up for a dollop of retail support will now struggle.

Even if the market were to promptly bounce, Myer would still struggle to surpass its $4.10 issue price. There is a lot of slippery money waiting to get out thanks to hefty private client allocations from the ”broker firm” component. For the ”stags” who had loaded up for a fast 5 per cent gain on issue day, there are cheaper stocks to buy.

Incidentally, there was a low-grade rumour doing the traps yesterday that the Myer privateers, or associated parties, had been mopping up a few David Jones shares during the pricing period for the Myer offer. The idea being that – as one of Myer’s selling points was its PER (price earnings ratio) comparison with DJs – a strong DJs stock price justified a higher price for its rival.

This sales pitch was always a furphy as DJs owns its CBD property whereas Myer flogged its main stores in a sale-and-leaseback deal. This year’s DJs annual report touts a ”permanent $30 million to $61 million cost advantage from owning flagship CBD stores”. The salient word here is ”permanent”. The privateer is not there for the long haul, merely to buy low and sell high.

Yet a canine is a canine whether it is tarted up in a crotched midriff top with yellow ribbons and squired by a model or not.

In the case of Myer, the costs had been stripped out, in bellicose fashion, and the prospect of anything more than 2 per cent revenue growth is relatively remote. In these circumstances, asking for a PE of 15 times at the issue price of $4.10 was always a bit rich, seeing as 13.5x has been the historical ceiling for retail IPOs; cyclical as their earnings are.

Thanks to a dazzling marketing effort, an often gullible press and the willingness of fee-hungry private client brokers to flog anything for a ticket, the privateers and their phalanx of PR people, brokers, ”independent” experts and assorted hangers-on has won the day.

The public has lost – volume weighted average price of Myer yesterday was $3.83 against a closing price of $3.75 – albeit they can probably expect some good news to emerge. Ensuring a buoyant aftermarket is a stock-in-trade of the privateer so they will have something up their sleeves to announce soon.

The business of flogging floats may be subdued for some time as a result of a poor showing from Myer, but the market has an acutely short memory. Look no further than the next most actively traded stock on the bourse yesterday: Boart Longyear. Floated in 2007 at $1.85 a share, ”Borat”, as it is nicknamed, now fetches 27c. To be fair, JB Hi-Fi springs to mind as a cracking private equity play (for shareholders) but the foul performers outrank the fair by a large margin.

And that’s before counting the assets which public companies themselves – the likes of IAG and Babcock – have acquired from private equity and lived to regret.

For the privateers, whose assets are usually geared five times to turbocharge returns and avoid paying tax, the market rally of recent months has come as a reprieve. The float of Myer, however, overpriced and overspruiked as it was, has done the industry no favours.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

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