FINANCE

Wal-Mart considering smaller stake in South African retailer

BY CSA STAFF

New York City Wal-Mart Stores is considering taking a smaller stake in South African retailer Massmart Holdings Ltd. to keep its listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the Associated Press reported.

Massmart said Thursday that Wal-Mart informed the company that it may now make a partial offer to buy more than 50% of the company for 148 rands ($21.06) per share.

In September Wal-Mart offered to buy all of Massmart for about $4.25 billion.

Massmart currently has 201.5 million shares outstanding, according to Thomson Reuters. The company, based in Johannesburg, runs about 290 stores in 13 countries in Africa, with most in South Africa. It also manages eight wholesale and retail chains under various brand names.

A deal with Massmart would give Wal-Mart an opening to expand in South Africa, a fast-growing economy but one that’s also troubled by high crime and a 24% unemployment rate. It also has a heavily unionized work force.

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Results improve at ODP, search on for CEO

BY CSA STAFF

Two days after announcing the resignation of chairman and CEO Steve Odland, Office Depot on Wednesday announced improved results for the third quarter ended Sept. 25 despite a challenging economic climate which pressured sales. The company said it achieved third-quarter profits of $54 million, reversing a prior-year loss of $413 million, while earnings per share rebounded to 18 cents compared with a prior-year loss of $1.51. Total sales declined 4.3% to roughly $2.9 billion, including the unfavorable effect of foreign exchange rates.

The huge swing in profits was not as extreme as it might seem due to the inclusion of tax and interest expense benefits during the current third quarter, which caused a 15-cent-per-share favorable impact compared with a prior-year period when reported profits were negatively impacted by $1.43 due to charges for deferred tax asset valuation allowances, the reversal of tax benefits and restructuring activities.

Board member Neil Austrian, who became interim CEO on Monday when the departure of Odland was announced, said the company was executing very well across the entire enterprise and is well positioned for a rebound. He also singled out the company’s North American Retail Division for its best sales performance since the fourth quarter of 2006. The 1,150 retail division reported same-store sales that were flat with the prior year and operating profits that declined to $30 million compared with $35 million. Profits were pressured as the company engaged in a highly promotional and competitive back-to-school season, which prompted increased advertising expenditures.

In addition to improved profitability, the company highlighted its free cash flow of $109 million and cash on hand of $679 million at the end of the quarter.

“We are pleased with our strong cash flow performance in the third quarter, which was driven by both earnings and good working capital management," said Mike Newman, Office Depot’s CFO. "We have been executing very well across the entire enterprise as we focus on returning to sales growth and delivering improved profit as we go forward."

Austrian indicated the company’s liquidity and positioning in the marketplace will enable the company to attract a quality executive to replace Odland although he declined to offer a timetable during a conference call with analysts.

“I don’t think we want to set a timetable because we want to find the best person we can.”

Austrian also said the timing of Odland’s departure was unrelated to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to inappropriate communications with investors.

“It has nothing to do with the SEC issue. It is unfortunate that it has come out that way, but it is not the facts,” Austrian said.

The change in leadership is intended to provide a spark to a company positioned to capitalize on improved economic conditions.

“We want a hall of fame guy. We want someone who is a proven leader and has run a major business and can grow revenue,” Austrian said regarding the search for Odland’s successor. “We are not going to cost cut our way of the problem.”

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B&N to sell e-reader at Books-A-Million

BY CSA STAFF

NEW YORK – Barnes & Noble announced a strategic partnership with Books-A-Million, to bring its NOOK e-readers to Books-A-Million’s 229 stores as the company’s exclusive e-reading devices. The announcement marks the first partnership of its kind between two major bookselling retailers in the United States, Barnes & Noble reported.

“We’re excited to work with another bookselling leader to introduce our bestselling NOOK e-reading line to an even greater audience of readers,” said Chris Peifer, VP digital business development at Barnes & Noble. “Our NOOK products will support Books-A-Million customers’ love of reading by providing access to the most expansive catalog of digital bestsellers, magazines in vivid color and children’s picture books.”

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