Is Syms, the off-price clothing store chain, secretly a real estate firm?

Author:
Publish date:

That's the theory that the New York Observer puts forth.
According to several shareholders and some outside observers, the Syms family, who owns a 57% stake in the company, "is hiding its plans in order to depress the stock price." Their plan, investors allege, is to buy back a larger share of the stock, build a tall building at their shop in the Financial District, and "reap more of the dividends."
This conspiracy theory, backed up by actions taken by Syms in the past year, that seem to indicate something is amiss.


The company, with a board of directors controlled by the Syms family, attempted to delist from the NYSE this past December, claiming they wanted to save $750,000 a year on SEC regulation fees. Skeptics say the truth is that the family wanted to cover up its next maneuvers, made easier by being listed on the Pink Sheets, where there are less disclosure requirements. Such a move caused the share price to drop by 27% in early January; however, shareholders were infuriated, filing a lawsuit against the company. Syms was soon forced to register with Nasdaq, unveiling the cloud of secrecy that had permeated.
In its April 25 annual report, "Syms revealed that it had purchased 16,500 square feet of air rights from 44 Trinity Place, the building next to its flagship at 42 Trinity Place, for $3.1 million." The purchase was made a week after Syms announced its intention to delist.
Then, on May 22nd, the company bought 67 Greenwich Street for $8 million. The company cited the need to "protect its property at 42 Trinity Place from encroachment," though investors were puzzled as to what encroachment was occurring.
Regardless of the theories abound, management has denied any claims of it being a real estate company. However, some continue to believe that the Syms family is determined to make the company private again.
This is a rather ingenious plan by the Syms clan. I mean, it's kind of like assembling the worst baseball team ever, losing as many games as possible, and driving down attendance to break the stadium lease so that you can move the team to Miami. Or maybe it isn't.
Whatever, I say we all buy stock in Syms and drive the price up to stop such an injustice from happening. *
--Senior Syms heckler Travis
*Disclosure: John Carney's brother owns Syms stock.

Related