A view outside a Kohl’s store in Miramar, Florida.
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A US senator from Wisconsin is urging Kohl’s not to accept any takeover offers that could precede a bankruptcy filing or threaten the jobs of workers in the retailer’s home state.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, sent a letter to Kohl’s board on Thursday asking the company to reject proposals that would dramatically increase debt levels, separate assets or increase payments to shareholders at the expense of reinvestment in the business.
“I ask that you carefully consider the long-term strategy of each proposal and reject any offer that proposes a sale-leaseback, increasing the risk of bankruptcy or jeopardizing the jobs and retirement security of thousands of Wisconsin workers. “Baldwin said in the letter, which was seen by CNBC.
A representative for Kohl’s did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
On Monday, after months of pressure from activists to consider a sale, Kohl’s confirmed it had received several preliminary offers from parties interested in acquiring the department store chain. Kohl’s did not offer specific names of these bidders. An offer has come from Canadian retail conglomerate Hudson’s Bay Co., a person familiar with the matter said. Separately, reports have indicated that private equity firm Sycamore Partners is considering a bid. Spokespersons for HBC and Sycamore declined to comment.
Kohl’s has already rejected an offer – from Acacia Research, backed by Starboard – to acquire the company for a price of $64 per share. Kohl deemed the deal too low, but has since been working with bankers at Goldman Sachs to field other suitors. So far, he says he has engaged with more than 20 parties. Shares of Kohl’s opened Friday at $61.67, having risen about 24% since the start of the year. The stock fell slightly at midday.
Private equity firms and hedge funds have repeatedly come under fire for pushing retailers out of business and hobbling employees. A 2019 report from United for respect calculated that more than 1.3 million Americans lost their jobs in the previous 10 years due to retail private equity ownership. He cited the Toys R Us and Sears bankruptcies as two examples.
Baldwin pointed out in his letter to Shopko, also based in Wisconsin, which found itself in debt after it was acquired by Sun Capital Partners in 2005 for about $1.1 billion. Shopko filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and was eventually liquidated after it was unable to find a buyer.
Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural Development and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), speaks at a hearing in Washington, D.C. DC, USA, Thursday, June 10, 2021.
Al-Draco | Bloomberg | Getty Images
All of Shopko’s approximately 3,000 employees in Wisconsin lost their jobs, Baldwin said. “Wisconsins are rightly concerned that history will repeat itself at Kohl’s.”
In total, Kohl’s had about 99,000 employees in 2021, including part-time workers during the holiday season. According to Baldwin, Kohl employs about 8,000 people in Wisconsin.
“I understand that you are under pressure from various investment funds that have recently purchased large blocks of Kohl’s outstanding stock,” the senator said. “I believe the demand that ‘their’ capital be returned through share buybacks is a sleight of hand that only serves to enrich shareholders in the short term.”
Kohl’s is to hold an annual meeting with shareholders on May 11.
In a letter to shareholders dated March 21, Kohl’s wrote, “While we have great confidence in our strategic plan, our Board of Directors is testing and measuring it against other alternatives. … The Board of administration is committed to following the path that it believes will maximize the shareholding value.”