As Cabela’s employees wait to hear their fate, the hedge fund that bought a big stake in the retailer last year and pressed for changes — leading to Monday’s proposed sale of the company — is starting to cash out.
Its profit so far: almost $90 million.
New York hedge fund Elliott Management said in a government filing Wednesday that it had sold more than half of its more than 6 million shares of Cabela’s. It announced that it had bought those shares last October, when it identified the Sidney, Nebraska-based retailer as a laggard among its peers.
It’s time to make changes at Cabela’s, Elliott said then — up to a sale of the entire company.
Elliott got its wish Monday when Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops said it would buy Cabela’s in a $5.5 billion deal, which is expected to close next year.
The activist hedge fund is used to getting its way. It will rattle its sabers unless it does. Such funds buy big stakes in companies and then throw their weight around to force changes. They persuade other big investors to go along with their demands because the payoff can be big.
Case in point: Elliott purchased Cabela’s shares for around $38.50 each, on average. It owned about $233 million worth of shares at that price. It sold more than half of them — more than 3.3 million shares — this week after the sale was announced, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Cabela’s stock on Tuesday closed at $63.36 per share.
A calculation of the figures available works out to a profit of more than $88.6 million — a 73 percent increase if Elliott sold at Tuesday’s closing stock price. The broader stock market during the same rough time period gained a little more than 10 percent.
“They got in there to get the business sold and the business was sold, so they took it and ran,” said Damien Park, managing partner at consulting firm Hedge Fund Solutions in Philadelphia. “They made a fortune, so they’re happy.”
An Elliott spokesman declined to comment when contacted by The World-Herald. A Cabela’s spokesman also declined to comment.
The hedge fund probably decided to take a good portion of its chips off the table now, when Cabela’s stock was near the $65.50 a share that Bass Pro offered to buy the Nebraska retailer.
There’s a chance — though legal experts told The World-Herald that it’s a small one — that the Federal Trade Commission could block a Bass Pro-Cabela’s tie-up on the grounds that it would decrease competition among outdoor-focused retailers.
“Elliott would just prefer to take the guaranteed money now and not sit and wait,” Park said.
Because Elliott’s stake in Cabela’s is now less than 5 percent — down from the 9 percent stake it had before it sold shares this week — it no longer is required to report to federal regulators when it buys or sells big chunks of stock. (Shareholders that hold more than 5 percent of a company’s stock are required to report to the SEC when they increase or decrease their stakes by 1 percent or more.)
That means Elliott could still be dumping its remaining shares — or it might have already done so — without needing to report the sales.
If it has sold or is in the process of selling its remaining 2.7 million shares it stands to make an additional profit of more than $60 million based on shares trading around their current $63.40, using the average price paid of $38.50. That would make a total profit, all other things equal, of around $150 million.
Lee Dunham, a finance professor at Creighton University, said it appears that Elliott has decided to start cashing in while the getting is good.
“They may have other opportunities,” he said of Elliott. “They don’t need to be hanging around for the extra” $1.50 or so a share, Dunham said.
By Wednesday, in fact, Elliott already had moved on to its next target: Samsung Electronics, controlled by the powerful Lee family of South Korea. Elliott said in a letter made public Wednesday that it wanted the company to break itself up, pay a special dividend to shareholders and add more experienced directors to its board.
“They accomplished what they wanted,” said Nick Gantchev, a finance professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies shareholder activism.