Insurgent investor Barington Capital Group reported Tuesday it now owns about 230,000 shares as of the women's clothing chain as of Dec. 31.
Barington Capital is no stranger to activism and has launched at least 44 campaigns at 37 different companies including 22 proxy fights since 1997, according to FactSet. Barington's founder, Jim Mitarotonda, has an expertise in the fashion/shoe industry after launching his career working at department store Bloomingdale's in New York before taking a job at the retail consumer banking group at Citibank and later starting Barington in 1992.
The fund also has launched a number of activist campaigns at retailers, including some campaigns seeking to drive M&A. People familiar with the activist note that he is looking at a few retailers as potential activist targets in 2016.
That's why it is very possible that Barington could seek to nominate directors to the board of the Fort Myers, Fla.-based retailer to push it into a sale. The stake -- along with 14 other investments -- was reported as part of a quarterly securities filing Barington is required to file because the fund manages over $100 million in investments. It is also the first time Barington was required to make the filing since November 2009, suggesting the fund dropped below $100 million in assets in the wake of the financial crisis and has returned above the threshold more recently.
The potential for an activist campaign comes in the wake of recent reports private equity firm Sycamore Partners came close to acquiring Chico's but later cancelled its effort over financing and valuation concerns. Chico's stock price has dropped from roughly $18 a share a year ago to Friday's close of $10.35.
Mitarotonda has close ties to the private equity world, often connecting executives of operating companies with buyout shops as part of an effort to make corporate operators more comfortable with take-out valuations.
Shortly after Mitarotonda joined the board of Jones Group in 2013, the New York-based apparel conglomerate agreed to be acquired by Sycamore Partners LLC for $2.2 billion including debt. Children's Place(PLCE) - Get Report settled in May with Barington and added a dissident director to the specialty retailer's board.
Chico's 2016 annual meeting is scheduled for June 23 and its dissident director nomination deadline is coming up in mid-April. With Mitarotonda hovering at Chico's, a buyout or proxy fight could be next.