Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Who is that masked bidder?

You have to wonder why the second company to tender a bid for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s is hell-bent on masking its identity. Suitor No. 1, after all, is all but hiring skywriters to tout its interest: “Thomas H. Lee wants to do burgers!”

So why the secrecy for would-be buyer No. 2? After thinking about it at length today, I’m convinced there are three possible answers:

1) The bidder is actually Bruce Wayne, who's thinking of the possible movie tie-ins. It’s always dicey when you live over a secret cave and have an alternate crime-fighting ego in the age of YouTube. Besides, Alfred’s not getting any younger, and he could spill the beans about the capes and all those nifty toys if reporters come a-calling.

2) The would-be buyer doesn’t want to drive up the price of CKE Restaurants, the chains' parent, by sparking a bidding war. That, in turn, could be the case if the acquisition is a strategic one. If the addition of those brands makes terrific sense for the suitor, the market might bet the second party would be willing to sweeten its offer.

So what companies fit that fit that bill?

How about Yum Brands? Burgers are a gaping hole in its franchise portfolio, and both Carl’s and Hardee’s have geographic room to grow.

Or how about an East Coast brand that could suddenly have a big presence in the West and Central West? That description could apply to a few brands, including Chick-fil-A. Then again, that’s not the type of operation to do something rash. But it would have the wherewithal.

3) This cloaked suitor doesn’t want to alarm its current employees, or possibly even its investors. It’d rather complete the deal before it needlessly worries key constituencies and creates a nightmare for itself.

But that sounds unlikely. So I’m putting my money on the likelihood that the challenger is a restaurant company who sees the two regional burger chains as good complements to its current holdings.

Then again, I had Kansas winning the NCAA championship.

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