Activist Investor Jana Partners Takes Another Run at Bloomin' Brands

Restaurant operator Blooming’ Brands Inc. (NASDAQ: BLMN) reported in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that activist investor firm Jana Partners has informed the company that it plans to nominate candidates for election to the board of directors.

The company is the owner-operator of the Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain and other brands, like Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Aussie Grill by Outback. At the end of last September, the company owned and operated 1,172 restaurants and franchised another 299 in 48 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and 21 other countries.

In the SEC filing, Jana Partners states that it owns 6.4 million (7.4%) of the company’s outstanding shares and that John Paul Gainor Jr. owns 12,000 shares (less than 0.1%). Jana is proposing to nominate two people to the eight-person board: Scott Ostfeld, a partner in the firm, and Gainor. In the event that Bloomin’ Brands decides to add a third person to the company’s slate of candidates, Jana names a third nominee of its own, Jennifer Fanjiang.

In its most recent quarterly report (for the quarter ended September 2019), Bloomin’ Brands said it was exploring strategic alternatives, including a sale of the company, that would contribute to maximizing shareholder value. In November, the company put itself up for sale.

Jana took a run at the company in 2018, seeking to create two separate businesses, one centered on the Outback brand and the other focused on developing the smaller brands. Jana settled for a board seat (currently filled by Wendy Beck) and began selling some of its then-9% stake in the company. Former Bloomin’ Brands CEO Liz Smith resigned last April, and current CEO David Deno took over on May 1.

Since Deno took up the reins, the company’s share price has risen by nearly 14%. That’s not bad, but less than half the gain posted by the S&P 500 last year, and virtually all since the announcement that the company was for sale.

Jana probably doesn’t want to run a restaurant business or two, but it certainly wants a say in who buys the company and for how much. The activist investor probably would prefer to avoid a costly proxy fight, but it has put the company and other shareholders on notice that neither does it shy away from a fight.

The company is scheduled to report fourth-quarter earnings on February 18, and analysts have forecast quarterly earnings per share of $0.35 on sales of $1.03 billion. For the full year, earnings are forecast at $1.57 per share on sales of $4.15 billion.

Investors appear to like Jana’s attitude, sending the shares up about 1.4% Monday morning to $21.025, in a 52-week range of $15.12 to $24.29. The 12-month consensus price target on the stock is $23.79 and Bloomin’ Brands pays a dividend yield of 1.93%.

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