SYDNEY (Reuters) - Myer Holdings’ (MYR.AX) largest shareholder asked the company for a full list of its owners, spurring takeover speculation and sending shares of Australia’s biggest department store operator soaring nearly 7 percent on Wednesday.
Premier Investments, chaired by Australian billionaire Solomon Lew, asked for the shareholders’ list in a statement and said it would “consider writing to Myer’s members in relation to any resolutions proposed at Myer’s AGM this year”.
Investors interpreted the move as a push for board representation, and as a possible precursor to a full takeover of the troubled but stalwart retailer.
“That’s always the undercurrent that’s sitting there,” said Mathan Somasundaram, a market strategist at stockbroker Blue Ocean Equities.
“Or potentially is he going to put pressure to get either himself or someone else on the board - the market probably thinks, one way or another, he’s going to get some changes.”
Premier, of which Lew owns almost a third via his private company, announced in March it bought a 10.8 percent stake in Myer and said then it had no immediate plans to make a takeover bid.
Myer shares enjoyed their largest daily rise in six months, hitting a two-month high of A$0.80 ($0.6278), while the broader market edged lower.
A Myer spokesman had no comment. Under Australian law it must provide the share registry list to Premier within seven days.
Lew, a veteran of the fashion retailing industry, has previously used shareholdings to gain leverage in takeover situations, extracting a premium for his slice of Country Road from South Africa’s Woolworths (WHLJ.J) in 2014, because he held a blocking stake in their takeover target, David Jones.
Announcing a modest increase in Premier’s annual profit on Monday, Lew took aim at Myer during a conference call with journalists and said he was “bitterly disappointed” at a 37 percent drop in the company’s share price since March.
Myer, once mighty and a household name in Australia, has struggled against seemingly unstoppable competition from online rivals and has become a favored target of short-sellers.
It posted earlier this month its lowest annual profit since listing and said sales so far this year were underwhelming.
Last week, Myer appointed Garry Hounsell as its deputy chairman and said he will be nominated as the chairman, after Paul McClintock retires. Hounsell’s election will come up for consideration at Myer’s annual general meeting in November.
Premier shares hit an over three-month low before paring some of the losses to close 2 percent lower.
Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Anusha Ravindranath in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates and Muralikumar Anantharaman