Best Buy Co., Inc. is getting out of Europe.
The Richfield, Minn.-based consumer electronics retailer said it will sell its 50-percent stake in Best Buy Europe to Carphone Warehouse, its joint venture partner, for about $775 million in cash and stock.
The move, widely anticipated by Wall Street, will allow Best Buy to focus on its core operations in North America, said CEO Hubert Joly.
“We concluded that the timing and economics were right to enter into this agreement,” Joly said. “This transaction allows us to simplify our business … and strengthen our balance sheet.”
Under the deal, which will close in June, Best Buy will receive an estimated $650 million in cash and $124 million in Carphone Warehouse stock. But Best Buy will pay Carphone Warehouse $45 million to end their Global Connect partnership, in which the two companies planned to sell their mobile store expertise to other retailers around the world. Best Buy said it also expects to record a non-cash $200 million asset impairment charge in the first quarter of this year.
From a financial standpoint, Best Buy appears to have absorbed a significant loss compared to the $2.1 billion the company invested in the original deal that created the joint venture.
But investors welcomed the move, with Best Buy shares rising in early trading Tuesday.
When Best Buy and Carphone Warehouse formed Best Buy Europe in 2008, during the start of the Great Recession, the plan was for the new company to build Best Buy-branded big-box stores and operate Carphone Warehouse stores in countries such as Spain, France and Portugal. But Europe’s economic woes have weighed heavily on the joint venture.
In 2012, Best Buy closed all of its branded big-box stores in the United Kingdom and Turkey. It also paid Carphone Warehouse $1.2 billion to exit its profit-sharing agreement over the Best Buy Mobile format in the United States, which Carphone Warehouse helped develop.
What remains are about 2,400 smaller-format stores Best Buy operates in partnership with Carphone Warehouse in recession-wracked Europe. Given Best Buy’s preoccupation with its struggling North American business, analysts say it makes sense to exit the joint venture because there is little financial upside in the long term.
The joint venture, however, was not a complete wash.
Best Buy Mobile has blossomed in the United States, generating about 30 percent of Best Buy’s annual operating profits, according to past Carphone Warehouse filings. In addition, Best Buy has used the training it developed for Best Buy Mobile employees to retrain its regular Blue Shirt workers, which the retailer credited for helping Best Buy generate a better-than-expected performance during last year’s key holiday shopping season.
Since Joly arrived at Best Buy in September, though, he made clear that fixing the U.S. stores would be his top priority, leading analysts to suspect that the company would pull out of Europe and sell its Five Star local electronics chain in China.
Joly said it’s premature, however, to think Best Buy, which also operates stores in Mexico and Canada, is withdrawing entirely from the international stage.
“Each international market is different, and the sale of our European operations should not suggest any similar action in our other international businesses,” Joly said in the statement.
Ironically, Best Buy is exiting Europe just as the business is starting to improve. Best Buy said Europe generated positive sales at stores open for at least a year in fiscal 2013, compared to large declines in Canada and China.
Exiting Europe marks the first major decision from Best Buy under its new board of directors, which includes former vice chairman and president Al Lenzmeier and former CEO Brad Anderson, who originally green-lighted the joint venture with Carphone Warehouse in 2008. The two men represent founder Richard Schulze, who still owns 20 percent of Best Buy stock.