Best Buy's not-so-best quarter

Problems keep stacking up for the consumer electronics company, and little relief is in sight.

By InvestorPlace Aug 21, 2012 12:46PM
By Tom Taulli

There seems to be no end to the deterioration at Best Buy (BBY). In the second quarter, the company's earnings plunged by 91% to $12 million, or 4 cents a share.

True, the figure included a $91 million charge for store shutdowns. But even when adjusting for this, earnings came to 20 cents a share, still well below the Wall Street consensus of 31 cents a share. On the news, the stock sank 5% Tuesday morning to $17.25, though it pared some of its losses later in the day.

The key problem for Best Buy remains its lackluster sales, which fell by 2.8% to $10.55 billion in the quarter. Analysts were looking for $10.63 billion.

Same-store sales (those at stores open a year or more) also fell 3.2% in the latest quarter. The analyst forecast was for a 2.6% drop.

As for the guidance? Well, Best Buy has withdrawn it. But then again, it seems likely that the problems are far from over.

Best Buy is yet another victim of the disruptive changes in the retail landscape. At the core of this trend is Amazon (AMZN), which continues to take away market share in categories like TVs, computers and mobile devices. The harsh reality is that Best Buy stores have become expensive showrooms for consumers, who will check out products and then use their smartphones to find better deals.

The company's focus on customer service and add-ons like warranties aren't helping. Again, the Internet has become a trusted source for customers. Do they really believe a store clerk, especially one paid on commission?

Despite all this, Best Buy is trying to turn things around. To this end, the company hired Hubert Joly as its new CEO. While he has a successful track record in dealing with tough situations, he has no retail experience. His prior gig was at Carlson, which is the parent of Radisson and T.G.I. Friday.

Of course, Best Buy's founder and largest shareholder (with a 20.1% stake), Richard Schulze, has been agitating for change lately. In June, he resigned from the board and then made a buyout offer for the company, at a price range of $24 to $26 a share. Yet Best Buy has made it difficult to get a deal done because of onerous restrictions (such as a proposed standstill agreement for 18 months).

Even without these hurdles, a deal would be extremely hard to pull off. In light of the falling sales and profits, there may not be enough interest from private equity firms to write big checks. For these investors to make money, Best Buy would need to have an IPO at some point. And that seems far-fetched right now.

Still, at its current stock price, Best Buy does look attractive. Hey, the price-to-sales ratio is a measly 0.12. Keep in mind that the multiples from Wal-Mart (WMT), Costco (COST) and Target (TGT) range from 0.45 to 0.55.

The problem is that few catalysts are available to get the stock back in gear. It will take the rest of the year for Joly to assess Best Buy's situation and put together a strategy. And as seen with the restructuring at J.C. Penney (JCP), pitfalls are everywhere.

In the meantime, the competition won't let up. Best Buy's rivals will see this as an opportunity to poach still more customers.

So, for investors looking for a longer-term holding, there's little reason to move into the stock now. The opportunities will be mostly for traders, who'll make occasional quick profits from the inevitable buyout rumors that will keep popping up.

Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPOPlaybook, a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He also is the author of “All About Short Selling” and “All About Commodities.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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