Long-term David Jones (ASX: DJS) shareholders had some rare good news this morning, with news that the company’s board had been approached by an as-yet unnamed UK entity with an unsolicited offer for the business.

The one-paragraph announcement was unsurprisingly brief, with no information released on any valuation from the would-be acquirer and the company’s board advising that the information received was insufficient to allow a formal consideration of the offer.

David Jones would be an attractive target for a cashed-up acquirer, who believed the company still had a reasonable chance to flourish despite the online and overseas competition, and comes hot on the heels of speculation of a private equity play for Billabong (ASX: BBG) and recent moves on Echo Entertainment (ASX: EGP). Buyers are certainly coming out of the woodwork.

A nice kicker

David Jones has significant property assets, which an acquirer would likely sell for a quick cash return – as was the case with the Myer (ASX: MYR) purchase and re-floatation in recent years.

The property is on the books at over $400 million – but some analysts are speculating it could be worth $1 billion.

With every likelihood that retail will recover in the coming years once consumers start to spend again, a purchaser would be planning to then sell or re-float the business.

After taking an initial cash return from the property portfolio, it’s likely that a buyer would then seek to relist David Jones onto the ASX, taking advantage of any upswing in consumer and investor confidence to sell a company with higher profits into a market paying a higher multiple of earnings.

Anatomy of a private equity play

In (hypothetical) numbers, here’s how it might play out.

David Jones was this morning selling for $2.55 – 12 times next year’s consensus forecast earnings of 21 cents per share.

The company had $460 million of land and property on its balance sheet. The acquirer might plan to sell all of the land, and take a few hundred million of almost-immediate gain.

Knowing that investors value companies on multiples of earnings, the acquirer would gamble that the property sale won’t hurt David Jones’ attractiveness to investors.

The acquirer holds the company for a few years, making some improvements and waiting for the retail recovery to take hold. The result of both factors might lead to a return to historic earnings per share of 30 – 33 cents, plus a little more for the improvements made – let’s call it 35 cents.

Lastly, instead of a pessimistic market paying 12 times earnings today, the acquirer gets to sell DJs at 16 times earnings to an optimistic market in a few years.

Foolish takeaway

Adding all of that up, the acquirer sells 35 cents of earnings at 16 times – meaning a sale price of $5.60, and they get to keep the few hundred million in property sales on top of that.

If they bought the company at today’s price, they’d turn a $1.3 billion purchase into a $2.9b sale, plus property proceeds of, say, $400  – $900 million. Not a bad way to make $2 or $2.5 billion!

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Scott Phillips is an investment analyst with The Motley Fool. He holds shares in David Jones. You can follow Scott on Twitter @TMFGilla. Take Stock is The Motley Fool Australia’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. Click here now to request your free subscription, whilst it’s still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).

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