Originally created 07/11/98

Effects on JB White after sale to Dillard's remain unclear



Area residents waiting to find out what will happen to their favorite JB White store will have to wait a little longer.

Dillard's, which is purchasing JB White's parent company for about $3 billion in cash, has extended the deal's deadline to July 21.

After the closing of the deal, Dillard's has said it will sell or swap overlapping Mercantile Stores, the Ohio-based company that runs JB White and several other store chains.

However, the company has not announced which Mercantile stores would be sold. Dillard's would put its nameplate on any stores it decides to keep, after the deal is finished.

There are three JB Whites in Augusta-Aiken. Dillard's, based in Little Rock, Ark., limits its stores to mall locations, leaving the JB White locations in Augusta's National Hills shopping center and Aiken's Heritage Square shopping center open to sale.

Repeated phone calls to Dillard's spokeswoman Julie Johnson Bull were not returned Friday.

Although Dillard's and Mercantile have had discussions about the closure of some 30 stores, a Mercantile spokesman declined to answer questions about those discussions, saying the two companies are still operating independent of each other.

"Until the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) gives approval and until the majority of stock is purchased, a change in ownership cannot take place," said Ed Orlemann, director of corporate public relations.

One retail analyst says Dillard's has delayed closing the deal twice before because it had been waiting for rival department store Proffitt's to finalize its acquisition of upscale retailer Saks Fifth Avenue.

Dillard's strategy is to sell overlapping Mercantile stores to Saks Inc., the new company created by the merger, and other rival department store chains, said Stephen Long, an analyst with Prudential Securities Research in Atlanta.

By having a potential buyer for the stores it plans to divest, Dillard's would go a long way to appease the FTC, which still must approve the deal, he said.

"By showing they have a purchaser of those stores, i.e., Proffit's, then the government should have no problem with the acquisition," he said.

Another analyst says Saks Inc., as well as other chains such as May and Federated could purchase the overlapping stores, but says he doubts Dillard's pushed its deadline back to round up buyers.

"That scenario is a possibility, but I don't think that is why there is the delay," said Tony Howard of Hilliard Lyons in Louisville, Ky. My understanding is they already pretty much got all the shares they need for shareholder approval. They're basically awaiting FTC approval."

In addition to JB White stores, Mercantile operates several other department store chains including Gayfers, Maison Blanche and Joslins. In all, it has 103 department stores and 16 home furnishings stores.

Industry analysts say the deal will give Dillard's nearly 400 stores and $10 billion in annual sales, which it can use to leverage better wholesale prices from its distributors.