By Soyoung Kim and Olivia Oran and Dhanya Skariachan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An eventual bid for Best Buy Co Inc <BBY.N> by founder Richard Schulze could come in under his initially proposed $8 billion range and will likely not occur before December, sources familiar with the matter said, in a new twist to the months-long saga at the struggling electronics retailer.
The former chairman has done most of his due diligence on Best Buy and has formed a business plan to turn around the world's largest consumer electronics chain, with his efforts now focused on lining up financing for a deal, the sources said.
At least three private equity firms - Apollo Global Management LLC <APO.N>, TPG Capital LP and Leonard Green & Partners LP - are considering joining Schulze in the bid, the sources said. Cerberus Capital Management LP, which was among the buyout firms that weighed joining the bidding group, is no longer working on the deal, one of the four sources said.
The sources declined to be identified because the information is not public.
The Richfield, Minnesota-based company has been grappling with tough competition from online retailers and the aftermath of a boardroom drama that led to Schulze's departure and the ouster of his onetime protege.
Schulze said in August he could acquire Best Buy for $24 to $26 per share, valuing the deal between $8.16 billion and $8.84 billion and, if debt is included, as much as $10.9 billion.
But Best Buy's shares have since fallen more than 20 percent to trade just above $15. The stock was up 1.6 percent at $15.50 on Friday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.
While a final decision on the offer price has not been made, the drop in shares has raised the likelihood that Schulze's bid could be below $24 per share, the sources said.
Schulze is expected to take a 30-day extension to mid-December for submitting a final proposal to Best Buy's board, they said.
The founder's efforts to clinch equity and debt commitments for what could be one of the largest leveraged buyouts of the year were delayed by superstorm Sandy which disrupted operations at several major Wall Street banks.
An extension will also give Schulze and the buyout firms a chance to see how Best Buy is performing in the crucial Christmas holiday season, the sources said.
There are no guarantees, however, that Schulze will ultimately be able to secure financing for the proposed buyout. Schulze has said he plans to fund any deal through a combination of private equity and debt financing, as well as the reinvestment of some of his own equity in the company.
Best Buy and Apollo declined to comment. The other private equity firms could not be reached for comment.
EYES ON INVESTOR DAY
Best Buy has seen its fortunes falter over the years, as consumers increasingly use its big box stores as showrooms for products they end up buying online at Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> and other websites. To add to its troubles, the company forced out Schulze's protege, Brian Dunn, as CEO earlier this year amid allegations the executive was having an inappropriate relationship with a female employee.
That scandal also led to the ouster of Schulze, who founded the company in 1966, from the board, and to Best Buy hiring turnaround expert Hubert Joly as its CEO to come up with its own restructuring plan.
Joly will have more of a chance to distance the company from its founder next week, when he unveils more details of his own turnaround plan to Best Buy investors in New York.
Barclays analyst Alan Rifkin expects Joly to reinforce the retailer's commitment to its brick-and-mortar stores and talk about his plans to win shoppers from online and discount rivals with better service and a wider product assortment, both in stores and online. Rifkin, however, does not expect Joly to announce any significant store closures next week.
"I don't think they have gotten their arms around the entire real estate portfolio just yet. We do think they need to rationalize their domestic square footage," said Rifkin.
Analysts also think Best Buy needs to do something soon to address consumer perceptions that its prices are higher than those of online giant Amazon's.
"Mr. Joly needs to balance cost cuts which can prop up earnings. But by the same token, he needs to outline investments and initiatives that will make the stores and the brand compelling to the American consumer," said Bradley Thomas, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets. "The challenge will be finding that right balance."
Best Buy, which has now posted declines in same-store sales in eight of the last nine quarters, has said it planned to match online prices on some items this holiday season.
One analyst has said that Best Buy's declining fortunes could make a buyout more attractive for some investors.
"We are starting to believe that current shareholders may be more receptive to Schulze's previously disclosed offer of $24-$26 per share than we previously believed," Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said late last month.
(Reporting by Soyoung Kim, Olivia Oran and Dhanya Skariachan; editing by Paritosh Bansal, Edwina Gibbs and Matthew Lewis)
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