Monday, October 23, 2006

Why I bought more Alberto-Culver

On Friday, "Prudential Equity Group analyst downgraded her rating on" Alberto-Culver. According to the AP, her reasons were "that both Alberto Culver and the new Sally Beauty Holdings face deal-related risk, and that tax obligations from the $25 special dividend may not be known until 2008." As a result, shares of Alberto-Culver dropped from $51.25 to $49.94 that day.

To address the second issue, depending on New Sally's earnings, the special dividend might be taxed as a dividend, tax-free return of capital, taxable capital gain, or a combination of the above. The dividend must be reported this tax year (assuming the proposal passes), but the final determination of how it is taxed might not be made until after New Sally's first year in operation at the end of 2007. For most people, the accounting is going to be ugly. But since I hold Alberto-Culver in my IRA, the taxes are an interesting side-note.

The other issue ("deal-related risk") is more of a concern. Without access to the complete report, it is difficult to know what that phrase represents, but I'd imagine it is a reference to the costs and difficulty of splitting a company in half. Until they have been separate for a few quarters, investors can't be sure of the extent of "one-time-charges" on or both of the new companies may incur. On the other hand, it seems to me the businesses have been more or less independent for years and ought to be up to speed quickly.

Considering why I bought shares originally, Prudential's downgrade is actually a positive sign for me. In particular, this is further evidence for point "a. Institutions don't want the spinoff (and not because of the investment merits)." The deal is complicated and it will be a few quarters, if not years, before everything settles down. Until then, institutions may not be comfortable owning shares in a company that is largely unpredictable.

In the meantime, the downgrade and resulting price drop gave me an opportunity to roll the cash I received from two going-private transactions into Alberto-Culver stock. It seems like the great value investors have a simple capital allocation strategy that I'm trying to emulate. When you have capital and an investment idea, allocate the capital to the idea.

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