Activist investor Land & Buildings resumes criticism of HBC: Reuters

Activist investor Land & Buildings on Thursday resumed its criticism of Canadian department store owner Hudson’s Bay Co, urging it to correct its under-performance and extract value from its substantial real estate holdings.

The hedge fund, which has been agitating for change at HBC, agreed in December to cease public statements about the company until its annual shareholder meeting on June 12. That was in exchange for concessions from the company in a deal with Rhône Capital that the fund said gave the U.S. private equity firm preferential treatment.

Now, Land & Buildings founder Jonathan Litt is again pushing HBC to boost its share price, which is significantly below the value of its assets following a run of earnings disappointments, and to monetize its prime property assets.

The fund held a stake of nearly 5 percent in the company last July and has not provided an updated figure for its holding.

Hudson’s Bay declined to comment.

“It has become clear that the familiar refrain blaming the challenges of the macro retail environment no longer rings true,” Litt said in a letter to shareholders, comparing the company’s share performance with its peers’.

Hudson’s Bay shares are up 4.4 percent this year, compared with a 40 percent gain in the S&P 500 department store index SPLRCT, used as a benchmark because of the store’s big presence in the United States. On Thursday, shares were little changed at $11.78 at 10:52 a.m. in Toronto trading.

Hudson’s Bay’s real estate is worth $31 a share, Litt said.

The company has taken some steps to turn its performance around. In December, it sold its flagship Lord & Taylor building in Manhattan and received a US$500 million ($632 million) investment from Rhône as part of that deal. It said this month that it would close that store and up to nine others and had agreed to sell its unprofitable online banner Gilt.

HBC also has signed a conditional agreement to sell its eponymous flagship store property in Vancouver, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters in May.

Chief Executive Officer Helena Foulkes, who took over in February, also has said all options are on the table in its quest to improve profitability.

Litt also flagged concerns over Executive Chairman Richard Baker’s US$54.8 million pay package, which was approved by shareholders but opposed by investors including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

(Reporting By Nichola Saminather; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trot)

(This story has been edited by Kirk Falconer, editor of PE Hub Canada)