Lowe’s interest in Rona may not be over despite abandoning bid: analysts
MONTREAL — Rona Inc. has some breathing room to build its Canadian home-improvement chain, but industry experts believe Lowe’s may not have ended its cross-border courtship despite abandoning its $1.8-billion bid for the company.
The U.S. chain’s withdrawal Monday will come at a cost to Rona investors, with the Quebec-based company’s shares dropping more than eight per cent following the announcement that Lowe’s is no longer contemplating an offer of $14.50 per share cash.
The U.S. chain’s withdrawal comes seven weeks after Rona, the Quebec government and others objected to the U.S. company’s overtures, which had begun privately in late 2011 and became public in late July.
“Lowe’s continues to believe that a combination of Lowe’s and Rona makes business sense and would create significant value for all stakeholders,” Lowe’s said in a statement Monday.
“It is unfortunate that the Rona board of directors did not recognize the important economic and commercial benefits of this proposal for its stakeholders and for Canada,” the statement said.
Rona didn’t immediately react to Lowe’s announcement.
“Lowe’s remains committed to the Canadian market and will continue delivering outstanding home improvement products and services to its Canadian customers.”
Analysts say that statement suggests Lowe’s may still have designs for Rona and follow the lead of U.S. retailers like Target and Nordstrom that are expanding into Canada.
Irene Nattel of RBC Capital Markets said the move by Lowe’s gives Rona some breathing room but isn’t necessarily the end of the story.
“Given a slowing Canadian housing market and outlook for sluggish consumer spending, we expect Rona’s results — notably top line — to remain pressured and we would therefore expect a certain level of shareholder support for a transaction, at an appropriate price,” she wrote in a report.
Keith Howlett of Desjardins Securities said the “friendly” phase of the takeover process is suspended.
“Our view remains that Lowe’s wants to conclude a transaction with Rona before Rona closes, or shrinks in size, 23 big-box stores located outside Quebec,” he wrote.
Rona closed three stores in Whitby, Ont., Calgary and Edmonton that were close to Lowe’s locations and will close or shrink another 20 location over the next six months.
Howlett said Lowe’s management was in Montreal last week for meetings with advisers and will make a hostile bid within three months or intensify its competition to facilitate more productive negotiations in two or three years.
Rona’s stock is down but is still above where it traded before Lowe’s expressed its interested.
“Further severe share price deterioration prompted by the withdrawal of the Lowe’s proposal could pressure the Rona board to talk to Lowe’s after all,” said Carol Levenson of Gimme Credit.
Lowe’s has a relatively small presence in Canada, although it is the second-largest home improvement retailer in the United States, after Home Depot (NYSE:HD).
Only 31 of Lowe’s stores are in Canada, out of 1,745 across North America.
Rona (TSX:RON) has by far the largest number of company and affiliate-owned home-improvement locations in Canada under its banner, with Home Depot a distant second.
Rona has more than 30,000 employees operating a network of nearly 800 stores under several banners as well as 14 hardware and construction distribution centres. Home Depot currently has 180 stores across Canada.
North Carolina-based Lowe’s had informally offered C$14.50 per share in cash but there was little enthusiasm for the proposal, even among analysts that cover the company.
They have said Lowe’s would be better to improve its performance in the U.S. market, which is showing signs of revival as home-building and home sales finally begin to recover from about five years of depressed activity.
Robin Diedrich of Edward Jones said Lowe’s will now be able to focus on improving its core U.S. business without the distraction of a potentially difficult hostile takeover transaction.
“I think it’s a smart move. They said they were going to pursue it so I’m a little surprised they withdrew so quickly but I think it’s probably for the best just given the fact that it looked like it was going to be a real uphill battle,” she said in an interview from Chicago.
Diedrich said Lowe’s will now revert to its original plan to expand in Canada organically by slowly opening stores. The challenge is there aren’t many good locations available, she said.
The U.S. company also faced a political battle in Rona’s home market of Quebec, which has undergone an election that resulted in the separatist Parti Quebecois party coming to power as a minority government.
The Quebec Liberals, a federalist party that was defeated in the Sept. 4 election, had already said clearly that they opposed a foreign takeover of Rona and a PQ government would likely be even less in favour of Lowe’s buying Rona.