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Could Best Buy’s Schulze Be Behind a Self-Inflicted Selloff?

Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) is in such a bad spot right now, you have to wonder if that’s by design.

If it is, founder Richard Schulze is one unscrupulous bastard … but a very cunning one.

If it’s not, then Best Buy is mismanaged and doomed anyway.

Schulze stepped down from the company’s board earlier this year and more recently made hay with his $11 billion buyout offer – an offer that reports indicate is still on the table. In fact, a rumor circulated by the New York Post just this morning indicates that the offer is indeed outstanding … but now a paltry $20 a share, down more than 20% from an initial bid of $24 to $26.

So is it just the conspiracy theorist in me wondering whether he is helping to orchestrate a further price decline through continued mismanagement?

Or, equally disturbing to shareholders of the big-box electronics giant, is it just that Best Buy is this bad of a company even without the ulterior motives?

Let’s take a look at the management strategy of this doomed retailer:

Price Matching: A No-Win Scenario

So we all know why Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) can afford to sell the same electronics items at 10% lower prices, right? Because they have lower labor costs, lower overhead, no commercial real estate and all those other margin-boosting bonuses that come with e-commerce.

So when Best Buy agrees to match any online price during the holidays … well, you have to wonder what they are thinking. How does simply moving products for almost zero profit during its busiest time of year equate to a wise move? Simple math tells you it’s ultimately better for the bottom line to sell one widget for a 5% profit than five widgets at break-even…

A great report by Michael Carney on Pando Daily gives this breakdown if you want some more specific numbers:

“Based on Best Buy’s Q4 2012 earnings statement and InvisibleHand’s internal price data, Best Buy’s price-match promise could, conservatively, cost it more than $400 million of gross profit this quarter with an EPS (earnings per share) impact likely to exceed -$1.12.”

In case you’re curious, Best Buy’s entire earnings for fiscal 2013 are projected to be $2.70 a share.

To be fair, Walmart (NYSE:WMT) is also instituting some online price-matching to ward off competition. However, the specific category of big-ticket electronics retail is all that Best Buy has going for it. Walmart’s general browbeating of suppliers tends to preserve some decent margins even if it sells at low prices — and even if sales haven’t been robust lately. BBY has nothing to fall back on.

Showrooming Is … Good?

Perhaps even more of a head-scratcher is that Best Buy is going to embrace the fact that it is ground zero for the “showrooming” phenomenon, where shoppers come in and check out a physical computer or flat screen TV… then they go buy it at Amazon or Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) or wherever.

How to counter that? Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly says you can’t. So instead BBY will embrace it.

In theory that makes sense, I suppose, since you can’t rightly unplug the phenomenon altogether. Joly wants to fight it by rethinking customer service — something anyone who has ever been “helped” in a Best Buy can admit is sorely needed — but also rethinking square footage and revamping the BBY website.

Wait, so to embrace showrooming you are going to have less stuff on the floor? And focus more on sending people to your website?

Uh … OK.

Flushing the Fundamentals

Of course, why worry about that if you’re trying to send Best Buy into a tailspin, right?

After all, Best Buy posted a $1.2 billion net loss in fiscal 2012. And last month the company warned that fiscal third-quarter profit would probably be “significantly” below last year’s results as sales at established stores decline. It is scheduled to report quarterly results Nov. 20. A year ago, earnings were 47 cents a share for the quarter … now they are estimated to be about 12 cents.

For fiscal 2013, revenue should decline about 2%; then another 2% slide is forecast in 2014.

In 2010 earnings were $3.10 a share. Forecasts for fiscal 2014 are $2.10.

As you can see, this is a stock that is either completely mismanaged and hamstrung thanks to secular e-commerce trends … or it is simply drifting down because management couldn’t care less.

Call me a pessimist, but I wonder if Schulze hasn’t leaned on his old pals in the company to just sit back and let the thing fall apart.

After all, given the management history at Best Buy, that could be the only strategy they really could implement successfully anyway.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did now own a position in any of the stocks named here.

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