Breakingviews - Tiffany’s fast-track court victory is a trinket

A Tiffany & Co. store is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RC2SVI9LEZAY

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Tiffany is getting the time but not the date. A Delaware judge ruled for a speedy trial to decide whether LVMH must go ahead with its $16 billion takeover of the U.S. jeweler. The whole thing ought to be wrapped up in four days. But the three months until the trial starts is a long time to be left dangling. A truce would be preferable.

The two luxury houses were due to consummate their marriage on Nov. 24. Instead the court decided on Monday to set a trial date for Jan. 5. LVMH boss Bernard Arnault so far refuses to cough up the $135 per share he originally agreed last year, claiming that Tiffany has been mismanaged during the Covid-19 pandemic. The idea behind the timing, according to the judge, is to give both parties room to start “productive discussions.”

If Tiffany is wise, it will read the room. True, the jeweler can stick to its guns and gamble that the court will force LVMH to go through with its original deal, pandemic or not. And it’s true that Delaware has almost never let bidders off the hook for a supposed “material” change in circumstances. But these are extreme times. And if LVMH were to name a new, lower price – say the $115 at which Tiffany shares were trading on Monday – it would be hard to dismiss it out of hand.

That’s because with every day the battle of nerves continues, Tiffany is losing luster. While the fight is unresolved, it can’t invest significantly or make big strategic decisions – which matters ahead of the crucial holiday season. Besides, even at $115 per share Arnault would probably be overpaying. With analysts expecting just $620 million of operating profit in 2022 according to Refinitiv, the new $14.4 billion price would give him a post-tax return of less than 4%. Tiffany would find no shame in settling for second best.


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