Strategic Hotels & Resorts: Bill Gates Vs. Goldman Sachs (BEE)

Bill_gates_imageFollowing billionaires, activist investors, and even opportunists has been a difficult job in recent weeks.  Activists can blame poor management decisions, but they cannot blame management over stock prices in a bear market.  This creates an interesting situation with Strategic Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: BEE) as we have Bill Gates opposing Goldman Sachs.

Strategic Hotels & Resorts is in a tough spot right now as anowner and operator upscale and luxury hotels in North America andEurope.  It is also a REIT and it is no secret that REIT’s have beenunder pressure as the need for capital puts any themat risk since they need to borrow to operate and continue payingdividends.  Its current dividend yield today is roughly 15%.

In a filing last night, Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments has become anactivist investor in Strategic Hotels & Resorts.  Gates’ totalstake is now 4.069 million shares.  Assuming no changes to the June 30levels, this makes Gates one of the top ten holders of this stock.

The filing noted that the Gates’ entity may “engage in discussions with theIssuer’s board of directors and management concerning the business andstrategic direction….” and “may engage in discussions with othershareholders of the Issuer to discuss matters of mutual interest….”

So if Bill Gates is going activist, you’d wonder why Goldman Sachs cutestimates and targets on Strategic in a broad lodging sectordowngrade.  Goldman Sachs took its prior $8.20 target down to $5.00 as the outlook for travel and lodging and entertainment spending is weakening rapidly and now expected to go well into 2009.

Shares are up today by 3% at $6.04, but the average trading volume hereis rather light.  What Gates is ultimately able to accomplish here isstill unknown.  He has invested in hotels before and the entire marketcap is just over $450 million.  If he wanted to he could easily buy theentire company. 

This stock is down almost 75% from its 52-week highs.  Its 52-week trading range is $5.46 to $22.74.

Jon C. Ogg
October 7, 2008

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