Urban Outfitters Shows Why a Buyout Would Have Made Sense, for It and Others

Print Email

Urban Outfitters Inc. (NASDAQ: URBN) is truly a unique company, catering to a unique audience, and in recent years it frequently has not gotten the respect that perhaps it deserved. This was a meteoric wealth creator from 2002 to 2006, enough to the point that private equity buyers just could not pay the big financial premium to acquire the apparel retailer. Maybe size matters, but perhaps the private equity buyers should refocus on the earnings potential here and see if the numbers make more sense now.

Shares are responding very well to earnings, and the stock is back to within about 4% of an all-time high. Where any private equity buyout would run into problems is in the $6.3 billion market cap. It may simply be too much money when you consider that a premium would have to be paid as well.

Earnings beat estimates at $0.51 per share, versus the $0.48 consensus, but the same-store sales gain was 9%. The shares are up more than 8% at $43.25, against a 52-week range of $34.38 to $44.96. The question a private equity buyer will have to ask is if 19 times the calendar 2014 earnings is too much, considering earnings growth averaging 20% and sales growth that is still in the double-digits.

Maybe a buyout would still make sense in a sum of the parts analysis. On top of the Urban Outfitters namesake brand, the company also has the Anthropologie, Free People, BHLDN and Terrain brands. Maybe a buyer wants one or two of the brands and would either sell, spin-off or have an initial public offering (IPO) for the other units. For that matter, if a buyer does not surface, maybe Urban Outfitters will do its spin-off IPOs down the road.

Urban Outfitters is a company that was pointed out as being on a private equity wish list. Maybe with everything firing on all cylinders, the time has passed by or will simply have to wait. The opportunity was there two years ago, so maybe it will be again.

Not all retail chains can be acquired. Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) was troubled for years and years. It is simply too big to buy now at $20 billion in market cap. Even a behemoth of its size managed to turn around. Gap is not known for being able to sell $200 blue jeans, but Urban Outfitters made it close to normal. Gap was at one point a potential private equity acquisition target, but the turnaround effort was just too big, considering the size of the investment and considering that Gap sat on the sidelines of retail for the better part of a decade.

True Religion Apparel, the maker of $200+ blue jeans, was acquired recently by TowerBrook for about $824 million. Another big private equity buyout was the J. Crew acquisition for some $3 billion or so from TPG and Leonard Green & Partners.