BJ's Gives Hints That Takeover Is Imminent

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The flood of news coming out of BJ's Wholesale ( BJ) could be yet another sign that a leveraged buyout of the discounter is imminent.

The company announced Wednesday morning the closure of five warehouse clubs and a shakeup in executives. Robert Eddy, vice president and director of finance was named executive vice president and chief financial officer, replacing Frank Forward. Cornel Catuna, senior vice president of field operations, was also named executive vice president of club operations, replacing Tom Gallagher.

The store closures will occur in Atlanta, Florida and North Carolina. BJ's also plans to restructure its headquarters and some field operations that could result in charges of about 78 cents to 82 cents a share in its fourth quarter. >>Retail M&A: 17 Possible Deals in 2011

The closure of these clubs and reorganization has the potential to lift earnings by 5 cents to 10 cents a share in fiscal 2011, Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi, estimates.

The company also reported a 3.8% jump in December same-store sales, slightly ahead of Wall Street's forecast. But excluding gasoline, comparable sales were up just 1.4%, significantly below consensus estimates of a 4% increase.

These announcements come after speculation heated up last week that Leonard Green is prepared to make a hostile bid for BJ's. The private-equity firm holds a 9.5% stake in the company, upping its holding earlier in the year. At the time, Leonard Green said shares of BJ's were undervalued and that it wished to chat with management about ways to enhance shareholder value.

"We think the timing and type of announcements are strategic in nature, coming ahead of an alleged auction of the company later this month," Sozzi wrote in a note. "Management is trying to portray itself as having the ability to make the difficult decisions required to drive stronger earnings growth, perhaps to stay aboard under a new regime, while also displaying hidden value to would-be bidders."

--Written by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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