Activist funds Ancora Advisors and Macellum Advisors have advanced nine nominees for election to the board of discount retailer Big Lots.
In a Friday open letter to Big Lots’ board, the two funds which have amassed a 10% stake in the firm, said the current board “lacks relevant skill sets, has pursued a poor capital allocation strategy and rejected credible offers to monetize Big Lot’s real estate assets.”
The activists’ slate, which was privately advanced on February 28, includes Macellum CEO Jonathan Duskin and portfolio manager Aaron Goldstein. The investors said that their nominees “understand the retail landscape and can bring urgent focus to developing a comprehensive strategy to increase profitability.”
The proxy contest comes after Big Lots reported earnings missed analyst expectations, which the activists said was a sign that “the company is at a critical juncture and in need of an immediate infusion of fresh perspectives on the board.”
The funds also urged the company to consider selling its real estate assets, which the activists valued at $1 billion. “The investor group is aware of at least one nationally recognized real estate private equity firm willing to undertake a sale leaseback transaction,” the activists said, adding that a deal could fund a share buyback program.
Big Lots has previously shown a willingness to part with its distribution centers and sold a Californian-based center last year for a little under $200 million.
Ancora and Macellum previously partnered up during a campaign at Bed, Bath & Beyond, where the duo, along with Legion Partners Asset Management, successfully pushed for four board seats and the removal of former CEO Steven Temares at the retailer.
In August 2019, Activist Insight Vulnerability ran a story suggesting Big Lots might be an attractive target for activists given its poor performance. The article said an activist might push for cost cuts, but also a sale to private equity. “For a faster and more drastic rescue mission, an activist might push Big Lots to sell itself to a private equity firm. The company faces seasonal fluctuations with its net sales and operating profit, and a sale to a buyout firm that specializes in cost control might help regulate that instability,” Activist Insight Vulnerabilitysaid at the time.
Big Lots’ share price closed down 8% at $16.61 per share on Thursday, underperforming the S&P 500 which closed down 3.4%. The company’s stock was up 2.6% in pre-market trading on Friday.