Reuters: BJ’s, Leonard Green Enter Confidentiality Pact

CHICAGO, March 22 (Reuters) – Leonard Green & Partners is evaluating whether to buy BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc and has entered into a confidentiality agreement with the retailer, pushing its shares up 2.6 percent in early Tuesday trading.

In February, BJ’s Wholesale said that its board had decided to explore a sale and other alternatives, after reports late last year suggested that Leonard Green had offered to buy the chain.

BJ’s is the third-largest U.S. wholesale club retailer behind Costco Wholesale Corp. and Sam’s Club, which is a unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. BJ’s latest results, issued earlier this month, topped analysts’ expectations as members did more of their grocery shopping at its stores and came in to fill up their gas tanks.

Wholesale clubs charge customers a membership fee, in return for which customers can shop the stores for deals on large quantities of everyday items like food and toilet paper, as well as other goods.

Leonard Green said back in July that it might propose taking the company private.

Under the terms of the confidentiality agreement signed on March 21, the private equity firm agreed to a restricted ability to acquire more BJ’s shares before March 21, 2012. It already has a 9.3 percent stake in BJ’s.

Buying BJ’s would be the latest step in Leonard Green’s retail buying spree. The firm just closed its purchase of fabric and craft products retailer Jo Ann Stores Inc late last week. It also teamed up with the family that runs 99 Cents Only Stores to offer to take that chain private earlier this month, and linked up with TPG Capital to buy upscale apparel retailer J. Crew in February.

BJ’s declined to comment on Tuesday morning. The wholesale club, which opened its doors in 1984, has said it will not provide updates or make further comments about the process unless a specific action is recommended by a committee of independent directors or the process is concluded.

BJ’s shares were up $1.19 at $47.71 in Tuesday morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Through Monday, BJ’s shares had risen 25.7 percent since June 30, the day before Leonard Green first disclosed a 9.5 percent stake in the company.

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)