Shares of Tiffany rose as much as 1.5% in early trading on Tuesday on a report from DealBreaker that activist Bill Ackman could be poised to amass a stake in the company. Shares are now up a fraction at around $68.
The report follows Tiffany's Tuesday appointment of Canadian Pacific (CP - Get Report) exec Mark Erceg as chief financial officer. Erceg had served as CFO of the railroad operator since May 2015. Last week, Canadian Pacific said Ackman resigned from its board, fueling speculation he would follow Erceg to Tiffany. He joined Canadian Pacific's board in 2012, leading an effort to install new board members and management. In an Aug. 5 filing, Pershing Square confirmed it excited its stake in Canadian Pacific.
A Pershing Square spokesman declined to comment on the rumors.
Should Ackman put money to work in Tiffany, it would closely resemble the thesis behind a recent stake Pershing took in burrito joint Chipotle (CMG - Get Report) : a well-known consumer brand that has fallen on hard times and needs fresh ideas in light of a share price that has gone drastically lower.
Tiffany reported second-quarter earnings, adjusted for one-time items, declined 5% from the prior year to 86 cents a share. Despite persistent struggles in driving sales globally, Tiffany benefited from price increases taken earlier in the year, lower gold and silver prices from last year that are now flowing through its financials, and a good number of share repurchases.
Executives foresee full-year sales declining by a low-single-digit percentage from the prior year, and earnings dropping by a mid-single-digit percentage.
But Tiffany's challenges -- mostly structural in nature -- continue. It has difficulty growing sales in key global markets. That calls into question whether the company can achieve its reaffirmed outlook, and why Ackman should jump aboard and shake things up.
Net sales declined 6% year over year to $932 million, slightly missing analyst forecasts for $933.9 million. In the Americas division, same-store sales dropped 9%, excluding the impact of the strong U.S. dollar. Wall Street was looking for a 7.8% increase. As in prior quarters, the strong dollar continues to impact tourist spending in major U.S. markets for Tiffany such as New York City, where it has prominent stores on 5th Avenue and Wall Street.
Meanwhile, same-store sales in Tiffany's Asia Pacific region plunged 9% on a constant currency basis in large part to "significant" declines in Hong Kong. Both a strong Hong Kong dollar and the Chinese government anti-corruption crackdown on gift-giving for party officials continue to weigh on luxury goods players.
As a result of the sustained pressure on oil prices, same-store sales dropped 22% for Tiffany in the United Arab Emirates region, where it has five stores. "We are increasingly concerned that Tiffany is situated in the crosshairs of a more challenged consumer environment in the U.S. and abroad," analysts at Oppenheimer wrote recently.
Tiffany shares have nosedived about 31% over the past two years, badly lagging the S&P 500's 7.2% gain.
One thing that might further tempt Ackman to get involved on Tiffany -- other than being a change agent that helps improve quarterly results -- is to try and unlock value by pushing for a sale of one of retail's most iconic properties. Tiffany owns the building that houses its well-known flagship store at 727 5th Avenue.
According to Tiffany's annual report, approximately 45,500 square feet of the 124,000 square foot building are devoted to retail sales, with the balance devoted to administrative offices, certain product services, jewelry manufacturing and storage. The New York City flagship store is also the focal point for the company's marketing and public relations efforts, says Tiffany.
The sale-leaseback transaction, as it's commonly called, is something department store Macy's (M - Get Report) is reportedly considering for its giant flagship store that it owns in Herald Square in New York City. The property could fetch billions of dollars, per some reports.
Tiffany's property is unlikely to be as lucrative as Macy's given its much smaller size (the Macy's store has about 1 million of selling space and is the largest department store in the U.S.), but it could fetch a hefty sum in the still hot New York City commercial property market. Tiffany could then ink a long-term lease for the store and use the proceeds for shareholder friendly actions such as share repurchases and a special dividend.
Bill, are you out there?