Dillard's is the latest target by activists for retailer's real estate

Key Points
  • Department store chain Dillard's is being called out by activist Snow Park Capital Partners for its real estate's value.
  • Snow Park has said Dillard's real estate alone should be valued at upward of $200 per share.
  • Dillard's isn't the first department store approached for its real estate holdings; Macy's had been under similar pressure.
Dillard's targeted by Snow Park on real estate value
Dillard's targeted by Snow Park on real estate value

Dillard's is the latest department store chain to be targeted by an activist investor.

New York-based Snow Park Capital Partners is now calling out the retailer for the untapped value of its real estate.

"Dillard's is essentially an unleveraged real estate company that is masquerading as a low productivity retailer," Jeff Pierce, managing director at Snow Park, told CNBC on Monday.

The investor, which has primarily focused on real estate securities and owns a 2 percent stake in Dillard's, said the department store's properties alone should be valued at upward of $200 per share.

Bloomberg first reported this news, but it was later confirmed by CNBC.

Shares in Dillard's initially climbed more than 6 percent Monday morning after the Bloomberg report. However, in midafternoon trading the stock was down more than 6 percent, at around $74 apiece.

According to Snow Park, Dillard's owns about 48 million square feet of real estate, with about a quarter of that in so-called Class A malls. Shopping centers in that category can command north of $650 per square foot in sales, according to the investor. But Dillard's is only averaging about $125 in average sales per square foot.

"It's fair to say that Dillard's may not be getting the highest and best use for some or all of their owned space," Pierce said. "In fact, our estimated rental value to more productive retail tenants exceeds the company's entire current income as a retailer."

A representative for Dillard's didn't immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Dillard's wouldn't be the first department store approached for its real estate holdings, either. Macy's had been under pressure from activist hedge fund Starboard Value since 2015 to separate its real estate from its retail business.

Then, earlier this year, Canada's Hudson's Bay reportedly made a takeover approach for Macy's, with an eye on its real estate. Companies in Hudson's Bay's portfolio in the U.S. include Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Ironically, Hudson's Bay also is a recent target of an activist. Land and Buildings Investment Management warned Monday that it would consider a push to remove directors at Hudson's Bay if the Canadian retailer didn't take steps "to enhance shareholder value."

Last month, Land and Buildings, which is controlled by Jonathan Litt, asked Hudson's Bay to consider going private and monetize its real estate.

With foot traffic notably on the decline at malls across America, department stores look to be easy targets for activists seeking to shake things up.

This also isn't the first time Dillard's is being pressured by an investor. In 2014, Marcato Capital Management built up a stake in Dillard's with the goal of having the company spin off its property into a real estate investment trust.

However, that pathway to monetization is no longer available under stricter regulations governing REITs. This had been a move Sears Holdings employed two years ago when it spun off some of its most profitable Sears and Kmart properties into Seritage Growth Properties to raise much-needed cash.

David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital disclosed in June that it held almost 10 percent of Dillard's Class A shares, though the Dillard family maintains control of the company through a separate set of Class B shares.

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