Kohl’s shares soar as activist investor group looks to add 9 directors to board

Customers leave a Kohl’s store on November 12, 2015 in San Rafael, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Kohl’s shares soared more than 9% in premarket trading Monday after a group of activist investors confirmed it has nominated nine directors to the company’s board, looking to turn the business around and boost its stock.

The group consisting of Macellum Advisors, Ancora Holdings, Legion Partners Asset Management and 4010 Capital owns a combined 9.5% stake.

The investors want Kohl’s to add directors with deep retail experience, cut executive compensation, slash inventory levels and consider selling some of its noncore real estate. They estimate the real-estate assets could yield between $7 billion and $8 billion.

The group is hoping to drive the stock price more than two times higher than current levels, through a sale-leaseback program for $3 billion worth of real estate, and a major share repurchase program, it explained in a letter sent to Kohl’s stockholders on Monday.

Kohl’s business was struggling even before the Covid pandemic, as the retailer ceded customers to online players like Amazon, and big-box companies like Target and Walmart. But losses have mounted especially over the past year, as many Americans have stayed at home during the pandemic. Kohl’s total revenue fell 25% to $9.8 billion in the nine months ended Oct. 31, while its losses totaled $506 million, compared with a profit of $426 million one year prior.

Current CEO Michelle Gass, a former Starbucks executive, took over for Kevin Mansell in 2018. Some of her initiatives include expanding an Amazon returns service in Kohl’s stores, and adding hundreds of Sephora beauty shops to stores, which will begin to rollout later this fall.

A spokeswoman for Kohl’s told CNBC in an emailed statement that the retailer’s board and its management team have been engaged in talks with the investor group since early December.

“We remain open to hearing new ideas,” she said. “Kohl’s is deeply committed to enhancing shareholder value.”

The group’s nominees include Macellum Chief Executive Jonathan Duskin, former Burlington Stores CEO Thomas Kingsbury and former Denny’s Chief Marketing Officer Margaret Jenkins.

Legion, Macellum and Ancora previously teamed up to remake the board at Bed Bath & Beyond.

As of Friday’s market close, Kohl’s shares are up nearly 20% from a year ago. With a market cap of about $8.3 billion, Kohl’s has grown to be larger than Nordstrom and Macy’s.

Kohl’s is set to report its fourth-quarter results on March 2.

Read the full letter from the investor group.

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