Saks' owner in talks to take over Macy's

The Morning Call - Trading of Macy's stock was briefly halted on Friday after its price shot up unusually quickly, a surge that appears to be fueled by a news report that the retailing giant is in preliminary talks to be acquired by Saks Fifth Avenue owner Hudson's Bay, a Canadian department store empire.

The merger discussions, which were reported by The Wall Street Journal, come as each company is facing an identity crisis. The department store world has been pummeled by a host of major changes in shopping patterns: Much of our spending is moving online, and these businesses have struggled to grab market share in that arena. Meanwhile, women are shifting in droves to buying their clothes at off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx or fast-fashion outposts such as H&M or Zara.

The companies might see joining forces as a way to boost their firepower in the fight to win over shoppers. Macy's saw dismal sales during the crucial holiday season, and recently announced it would slash 10,000 jobs, the latest reminder of its need to adapt to a fast-changing shopping climate. At Hudson's Bay, a sprawling business that includes Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, things weren't quite as grim, but holiday results suggested that the company is still facing some challenges in connecting with shoppers.

Earlier this month, Macy's announced it will close six stores in Pennsylvania this year, but its Lehigh Valley Mall location was not one of them.

"If you look at the mall, it performs extremely well," Phoenix-based retail analyst Jeff Green told The Morning Call in August. "You've got to assume that the Macy's also performs well."

The retailer announced 68 store closings across the country, including the Macy's at the Plymouth Meeting Mall in Montgomery County and the Macy's at the Neshaminy Mall in Bucks County.

The other affected Macy's stores in Pennsylvania are in Mercer, Beaver, Lycoming and Washington counties. The six Macy's locations slated to close in Pennsylvania employ a total of 438 associates, who will be offered severance benefits or, where possible, relocation to nearby stores.

Both Macy's and Hudson's Bay companies are no strangers to mergers. In 2005, when the company was still known as Federated Department Stores, it purchased a rival, May Department Stores, for $11 billion, a deal that created the largest department store company in the United States. Hudson's Bay, meanwhile, acquired Saks Fifth Avenue back in 2013 for $2.4 billion. Just last year, it scooped up Gilt, an e-commerce startup, to help it strengthen its digital know-how.

Macy's stock, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, was up a little more than 8 percent at 10:48 a.m. Occasionally, trading on the NYSE can be automatically halted if it is swinging wildly; the NYSE says that is what happened in this case. Companies can also elect to deliberately halt trading of their stock if a big news announcement is coming, but NYSE said that did not occur here.

In an email, a Macy's spokeswoman said, "We do not comment on rumors and speculation." A representative for Hudson's Bay also declined comment.

Hudson's Bay is quite a bit smaller than Macy's on some key measures. It has 485 stores worldwide, while Macy's has more than 800. Hudson's Bay also had a market capitalization of $1.87 billion at Friday's market closing, compared to $10 billion for Macy's.

The report of a possible deal comes as Macy's prepares for a long-planned changing of the guard, in which chief executive Terry Lundgren will step down from that role and be replaced by Jeff Gennette. The retailer has had other changes at the top recently, too: Company veteran Peter Sachse, the chief growth officer, was pushed out in recent weeks.

Macy's has been trying a variety of tactics to remake itself for an era in which its core business doesn't seem to be resonating with consumers. It has invested in new concepts, including an off-price store called Macy's Backstage that was intended to get a piece of the success enjoyed by off-price chains such as Nordstrom Rack. It also purchased Bluemercury, a specialty beauty and spa chain. And it has aggressively moved to trim its store portfolio, closing outposts in an acknowledgment that online shopping is making it unnecessary to have so many locations.

And then there have been moves that are more visible to Wall Street than to shoppers: It has been working to figure out how it might unlock value from its lucrative real estate portfolio.

Investors such as Starboard Value estimate Macy's real estate assets are worth $21 billion, more than the enterprise value of its retail operations.