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Hedge fund firm Elliot to acquire Barnes & Noble in USD683m deal

Barnes & Noble is to be acquired by funds advised by Elliott Advisors (UK) Limited (Elliott) for USD6.50 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately USD683 million, including the assumption of debt.

Elliott’s acquisition of Barnes & Noble, the largest retail bookseller in the United States, follows its June 2018 acquisition of Waterstones, the largest retail bookseller in the United Kingdom. James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, will assume also the role of CEO of Barnes & Noble following the completion of the transaction and will be based in New York.

The USD6.50 per share purchase price represents a 43 per cent premium to the 10-day volume weighted average closing share price of Barnes & Noble’s common stock ended 5 June, 2019, the day before rumours of a potential transaction were reported in the media.

The announced transaction with Elliott is the culmination of an extensive Strategic Alternative Review conducted by the Special Committee of the Barnes & Noble Board of Directors, which was announced on October 3, 2018. The Board of Directors of Barnes & Noble unanimously approved the transaction and recommend the transaction to Barnes & Noble shareholders. Leonard Riggio, the Founder and Chairman of Barnes & Noble, has also entered into a voting agreement in support of the transaction.

Barnes & Noble serves 627 different communities across all 50 states, where it remains the No1 bookseller in the United States. Elliott seeks to build upon this strong foundation as it addresses the significant challenges facing the bricks and mortar book retail space, applying a model that successfully turned around Waterstones over the past decade.

Following the close of the transaction, Elliott will own both Barnes & Noble and Waterstones, and while each bookseller will operate independently, they will share a common CEO and benefit from the sharing of best practice between the companies. Waterstones has successfully restored itself to sales growth and sustainable profitability, based on a strategy of investment in their store estate and the empowerment of local bookselling teams. Under Daunt’s leadership and Elliott’s stewardship, this commitment to bookselling excellence will strengthen the ability of both companies to navigate with success a rapidly changing retail landscape.

Riggio says: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement with Elliott, the owner of Waterstones, a bookseller I have admired over the years. In view of the success they have had in the bookselling marketplace, I believe they are uniquely suited to improve and grow our company for many years ahead. I am also confident that James Daunt has the leadership ability and experience necessary to lead this great organisation. I will do everything I can to help him make the transition smooth. Having been the leader of Barnes & Noble for 54 years, I have had the privilege of working with the very best people in all the world of bookselling, including our great store managers and booksellers, who work in our stores. It is they who have made Barnes & Noble the No1 most reputable retailer in America. My profound thanks, as well, to the entire publishing world, with whom we have shared a great relationship over the years, and the many suppliers who have provided vital services. Finally, to our tens of millions of wonderful customers and Members, it has been a privilege to serve them.” 

Daunt adds: “I look forward greatly to working with the booksellers at Barnes & Noble. Physical bookstores the world over face fearsome challenges from online and digital. We meet these with investment and with all the more confidence for being able to draw on the unrivalled bookselling skills of these two great companies. As a place in which to choose a book, and for the sheer pleasure of visiting, we know that a good bookstore has no equal. I thank Mr Riggio for his confidence, and I am grateful to Elliott for their commitment to support the continued transformation at Waterstones, and now also the same at Barnes & Noble.” 

Paul Best, Portfolio Manager and Head of European Private Equity at Elliott, adds: “Our investment in Barnes & Noble, following our investment last year in Waterstones, demonstrates our conviction that readers continue to value the experience of a great bookstore. We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Founder and Chairman Leonard Riggio and his team for creating the leading bookstore company in the United States. We look forward to working with James Daunt and the Barnes & Noble community of readers, members and booksellers as they start an exciting new chapter.” 

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including the receipt of regulatory and stockholder approval, and is expected to close in the third quarter of 2019. The merger agreement provides for the acquisition to be consummated through a merger structure. However, the parties expect to amend the agreement to utilise a tender offer structure, which is expected to reduce the time to closing by a number of weeks. 

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