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Barnes & Noble move may signal a spinoff

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If someone were to pen the story of Barnes & Noble today, booksellers would probably file it under “mystery.”

There’s long been talk about whether Barnes & Noble will split itself into two companies, likely with its retail books division on one side and the Nook  its long-suffering e-reader – on the other. That path might have become a bit clearer Thursday, as Barnes & Noble announced it would buy back Microsoft’s roughly 17 percent stake in Nook.

But John Tinker, an analyst with investment bank and brokerage firm Maxim, says it’s still unclear if and how the company might divide itself. Barnes & Noble is currently made up of retail stores, a series of college bookstores and a large equity interest in Nook, which is both a hardware company and a software company.

When a company wants to shed a division, it generally has three options: liquidate it, sell it, or spin it off. University of Pennsylvania professor Emilie Feldman says the Nook still has some value, though finding a buyer could be tough. Spinoffs have become popular lately, she says, citing examples like HP, eBay, and Symantec.

Investors often push for spinoffs when companies have divisions with very different growth trajectories, competitors or paths forward, Feldman says. If Barnes & Noble did spin off the Nook, it’d likely issue new stock in separate company to existing shareholders, letting them decide whether to hold the stock and stick with the Nook or sell.

 

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