Eddie Lampert Leaves AutoZone's BOD -- Prelude to Abandonment?

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Includes: AZO, GPS, HD
by: Lon Juricic

In an amended 13D filing after the close yesterday on AutoZone, Inc. (NYSE:AZO), Eddie Lampert's hedge fund ESL Partners, which is a 30.99% holder (22 million shares) of the stock, noted the news that Mr. Lampert would step down from the Board of Directors of the company, in order to devote more time to other duties at ESL and Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD).

Yesterday, shares of AutoZone were under pressure as rumors surfaced Lampert's fund would start to liquidate the position. The rumors were abound even though Mr. Lampert stated in the press release, "I plan to remain involved with the company, and ESL currently plans to remain a significant shareholder in AutoZone for the foreseeable future."

I guess one could view the word "significant" as meaning a 5% or 10% holder, not a 31% holder.

Wording in the SEC filing certainly leaves the door open for a sale. The disclosure notes that "Filing Persons (NYSE:ESL) may acquire additional Shares; may sell all or any part of their Shares pursuant to Rule 144, in privately negotiated transactions or in sales registered or exempt from registration under the Securities Act of 1933; may distribute Shares to various of their partners or may engage in any combination of the foregoing."

This wording is not new and is a pretty standard disclosure, so in and of itself is not an indication that Lampert is bailing. But speculation on Lampert's next move have been rife lately, with talk centering on the hedge fund guru accumulating stakes in Home Depot (NYSE:HD) or Gap (NYSE:GPS).

Using funds from a sale of all or part AutoZone would surely give Mr. Lampert some play money to throw around.

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