Long-suffering shareholders in surfwear group Billabong look likely to suffer one last indignity after the company announced late Tuesday night it would grant exclusivity to one of its two takeover suitors at a takeover price of 60¢ a share, nearly half the price offered earlier this year and a long way from the $14 the shares were worth in 2007.
It raises the prospect that Billabong chief executive Launa Inman, who took the reins only last May, will leave the group and will not get a chance to implement her strategy to rescue the business.
After nearly 20 days stuck in a trading halt Billabong shares will return to trading on Wednesday morning as the company enters 10 days of exclusive negotiations with a takeover consortium led by its own US executive Paul Naude and private equity play Sycamore Partners.
At 60¢ a share Billabong is worth about $287 million. In 2012, before the company triggered a huge capital raising that almost doubled the shares on issue, Billabong directors rejected an initial takeover offer from private equity group TPG of $3 and then another at $3.30 a share. Before the trading halt last month the shares were at 73¢.
Crucially, it looks like Mr Naude and Sycamore have won the in-principle backing of Billabong founder, director and major shareholder Gordon Merchant as well as fellow director Colette Paull, who combined account for 16 per cent of Billabong's shares.
Rival Billabong suitors, Altamont Capital Partners and VF Corporation, are now in the back seat. However, Billabong warned there was no guarantee the transaction put forward by Mr Naude and co would proceed.
Under the Sycamore proposal, Billabong shareholders can take 60¢ a share in cash or accept scrip in a Sycamore affiliate to be incorporated for the purposes of making the bid for Billabong.
A condition of the Sycamore proposal is that scrip elections are received for at least 15 per cent of the shares in Billabong. Billabong said another condition was that the families of Mr Merchant and Ms Paull confirm that they would elect to receive the scrip consideration. Both have agreed to confirm this.
Billabong said it would provide an update on the proposal at the end of the period of exclusivity.
Several private equity plays have been nipping at Billabong for a number of years as the company's share price dove by more than 75 per cent and it issued multimillion-dollar losses and write-downs.