Consumer

Shelly Banjo is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering retail and consumer goods. She previously was a reporter at Quartz and the Wall Street Journal.

Now is not the time for Pier 1 Imports to be doling out cash. 

The struggling home-decor retailer said this week it was handing out more than $1 million in one-time cash payments to three top executives as retention bonuses, in a bid to get them to stay on after the company's CEO announced his retirement earlier this month.  

It also adopted an anti-takeover poison pill with a 10 percent ownership trigger. The move seems to be aimed at thwarting activist investor Alden Global Capital -- which recently snapped up 9.5 percent of the company -- and reassuring current board members they will get to keep their seats. 

Falling Off
Pier 1 Import's shares had sunk by 38% in the past year, compared to a 16% rise in the Russell 2000 Index
Source: Bloomberg

Alden criticized the company's actions Wednesday, calling the poison pill a "highly questionable form of entrenchment." Alden president Heath Freeman said he met with Pier 1 chairman Terry London just four days before the poison-pill announcement, to explain he wanted to work with the board to shore up Pier 1's flagging business and search for a new CEO. Freeman said he wanted board seats, not to acquire the company outright. 

It's hard to really know Freeman's true intentions. But he's right about one thing: Pier 1 doesn't need to be spending its time and money keeping a leadership team in place that has overseen four straight quarters of declining same-store-sales.

The slump is especially notable at a time when U.S. home prices are rising and home-focused retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe's, and Wayfair are all posting runaway growth.

Not So Pretty
Pier 1's comparable store sales have declined for four straight quarters from the previous year
Source: Bloomberg Intelligence

London, who joined the board in 2003, has been around long enough to remember when the company was posting 10 percent quarterly increases in same-store sales. But since he became chairman in 2012, Pier 1's market capitalization has gone from $1.8 billion to $378 million.  

Bounce House
Pier 1's stock rose as much as 14% Thursday after losses were narrower than expected
Source: Bloomberg
Intraday times are displayed in ET.

Shares bounced on Thursday by as much as 14 percent, as traders reacted to Pier 1's second-quarter losses, which weren't as bad as analysts had expected.

But investors shouldn't expect the stock to move too much higher.

The company this week lowered its sales, earnings, and capital spending forecast for the year ending February 2017. Analysts don't see the stock climbing any higher in the next 12 months than where it is now.  

Short interest is running at 5 times its average daily volume and made up around 30 percent of float as of September 15, according to exchange-reported data. And the shares are pricey -- trading around 15 times forward earnings, compared to an average multiple of 12.5 over the last two years.

Some fresh eyes could help. 

Perhaps new leadership would be willing to close more of the company's 1,000 North American stores and spend more on e-commerce. Maybe it could also figure out how to drive sales without resorting to steep discounts; that might shore up Pier 1's operating margin, which pales in comparison to competitors.

Falling Behind
Pier 1's operating margin severely lags competitors
Source: Bloomberg Intelligence

Instead of throwing cash at failing executives and clinging to entrenched board members, the company should welcome the new blood.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Shelly Banjo in New York at sbanjo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net