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Buffalo Wild Wings shares likely to rally if Marcato wins proxy vote

  • Buffalo Wild Wings investors will choose between competing slates of directors to determine if the company will be dramatically reshaping its more than 1,200 restaurants.
  • "My guess is that if Marcato gets some representation on the board, then there will be a rally today," Peter Saleh, analyst at BTIG, told CNBC.
  • Regardless of who is elected to the board, management will likely exhibit more discipline around capital allocation and return of capital to shareholders in the future.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings | Facebook
Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings' fate is about to be decided by its investors.

After months of volleys between the chicken-wing chain and activist investor Marcato Capital Management, shareholders are set to vote between two different visions for the company's future at the annual shareholder meeting Friday.

Investors will choose between competing slates of directors to determine if Buffalo Wild Wings will be dramatically reshaping its more than 1,200 restaurants. However, one result is more likely to result in an uptick in the company's stock.

"My guess is that if Marcato gets some representation on the board, then there will be a rally today," Peter Saleh, analyst at BTIG, told CNBC. "If management wins, there may be some sort of disappointment because the pace of change will not be as quick."

Saleh said that shareholders are looking for change and the more dramatic the board shakeup, the higher the stock will go.

Marcato, which now holds a 9.9 percent stake in the company, has been pushing for the company to boost its franchised stores from 50 percent of its fleet to 90 percent and for CEO Sally Smith to step down from her post. The hedge fund, helmed by Mick McGuire, believes this to be the solution to Buffalo Wild Wings' sluggish sales, slowing foot traffic and tight margins.

The company has touted strategies it is currently employing to improve its results, such as testing smaller locations that can be opened in more heavily populated areas to focus on takeout and delivery. The chain also is trying marketing programs that are aimed at boosting check size and looking for ways to cut costs.

Marcato received support from independent proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services and Egan-Jones ahead of the Friday afternoon's vote.

Egan-Jones supported all four of the board candidates proposed by Marcato, but ISS only supported three of the four. ISS backed McGuire and Scott Bergren, a former Pizza Hut CEO. It also supported Sam Rovit, CEO of CTI Foods, who is also on Buffalo Wild Wings' slate.

ISS did not support Lee Sanders, former chief development officer of TGI Fridays, saying that Sanders did not need to be added to the board because the proxy advisor did not feel Marcato needs to fully implement its refranchising strategy.

On the other side, Glass Lewis recommended shareholders of Buffalo Wild Wings to vote for the company's slate of directors. The proxy adviser said that Marcato's nominees did not have a compelling reason to make changes to the board and lacked the experience to contribute to the board.

"My guess is that some of the representatives from Marcato will get elected to the board, however, I don't think they will have majority control," Saleh said.

Regardless of who is elected to the board, Saleh said that change is coming for the company. It is likely that management will exhibit more discipline around capital allocation and return of capital to shareholders, he said.

"I don't think the fundamentals are going to change for the company right away," Saleh said. "I don't think anything that happens today is going to impact the fundamentals of the company through 2017. Maybe in 2018, we will see."

Shares of the company were up about 1.3 percent on Friday, last changing hands at $151.75. Over the past year, the company's stock is up just under 4 percent, but in the year-to-date period, the stock has fallen nearly 2 percent.