Business / Corporate

Activist urges Japanese clothing firm Sanyo Shokai to sell itself

by Min Jeong Lee and Takako Taniguchi

Bloomberg

A U.S. activist investor has called on Japanese clothing company Sanyo Shokai Ltd. to sell itself, saying a new owner would help turn around the firm.

RMB Capital sent a letter in December to the company’s board, urging it to seek a strategic buyer, according to Masakazu Hosomizu, a Chicago-based portfolio manager for the investment firm. Sanyo Shokai should seek a partner with more capital because its own efforts to revive the company haven’t been successful and it doesn’t have enough scale to reorganize its business on its own, he said.

RMB, which owns about 5 percent of Sanyo Shokai, decided to go public about the letter because it wasn’t satisfied with the company’s noncommittal response, Hosomizu said in an interview. A spokesperson for Sanyo Shokai wasn’t immediately available to comment.

“They should hire a financial adviser and contact potential buyers,” Hosomizu said. “I’m envisaging a tender offer by the strategic buyer as the purchasing method.”

Investor activism has been increasing in Japan as the country takes steps to make its companies more shareholder-friendly. But it’s less common for an investor to call on a board to seek to sell the company.

In the letter, RMB said Sanyo Shokai has posted years of losses, and its own turnaround efforts, such as cutting head count, brands and stores, have failed. Sanyo Shokai “lacks enough scale to bear the costs” of mounting investments needed to its sales channels, it said. The company, which once held a license to sell Burberry Group PLC products in Japan, also lacks strong in-house brands and doesn’t have enough capacity to add proprietary and third-party brands, it said.

“RMB believes Sanyo should join a strategic partner that has larger capital and potential to complement its capabilities,” the investor said. “RMB is concerned that the motivation of Sanyo’s talented employees will deteriorate under this ongoing business underperformance and repeated layoffs, resulting in serious damage to Sanyo’s tangible and intangible assets.”

Sanyo Shokai shares have lost about 90 percent of their value from a high in 2006. The company trades at less than 0.4 times book value.

RMB Capital attempted last year to block Bandai Namco Holdings Inc.’s bid to acquire Sotsu Co., the licensing firm for the popular animation franchise “Gundam,” saying the offer price was too low. After the completion of the tender offer, Bandai Namco now holds about 80 percent of Sotsu, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“I’m hoping this will serve a trigger for change at the company,” Hosomizu said of Sanyo Shokai. He said the investor hasn’t decided its strategy from here, but making shareholder proposals to elect board members is “a possibility.”