It might come as a surprise to many in the investment community, but Giant Food Inc. plans no changes in ownership or in the company's basic operation.
There will be no acquisitions or expansion into a different line of business. Nor are there any plans by principal owners of the Landover-based food chain to sell to anyone.
Despite repeated denials by Giant officials, some analysts disagree, insisting that an acquisition of the area's leading food chain is a very real possibility. They may be right, but the timing of their speculation is probably off.
Speculation over Giant's immediate plans heightened late last month when the American Stock Exchange halted trading in the firm's stock. The fact that trading was suspended for two days triggered further anticipation among investors.
Even after Giant's announcement on Jan. 20 that it had declared a 3-for-1 stock split and that it had raised the dividend by 38 percent, many in the investment community lingered in anticipation of a further announcement.
It never came, of course, and, "Everyone seems to be puzzled" over the two-day halt in trading, says Eliot Benson, vice president and director of research at Ferris & Co.
Suspending trading for two days only to announce a stock split doesn't make sense, he contends.
Benson subscribes to the theory, as others have in recent weeks, that Giant may be a takeover target. "It's one hell of a company and has a hell of a lock on the market here, and that makes it a very attractive plum," he remarked.
"I think if an attractive enough opportunity to sell the company presents itself, they'd have a hard time turning it down," Benson said of the Cohen and Lehrman families who hold all of Giant's voting shares.
A former food industry official familiar with Giant doubts seriously that the company will be sold while it is still controlled by those families. "Izzy Cohen Israel Cohen, chairman of Giant has only one love in life, and it's that company," he remarked. "Izzy is not going to give up that company."
An unfriendly takeover would be next to impossible, even if the Lehrman family decided to sell its 50 percent share in the company, the official noted, because Cohen controls the other half of the voting stock and retains operating control.
David B. Sykes, Giant's senior vice president for finance, unequivocally rules out a sale to potential buyers.
"I think we're having too much fun to even consider anything like that," said Sykes, a long-time employe and highly respected by Cohen for his fiscal judgment.
"It's not a question of anybody wanting to bail out and do something else," Sykes added.
A more intriguing question at this juncture is: Will Giant soon announce an acquisition of its own? An increase in the number of authorized Class A shares outstanding has fueled considerable speculation about expansion plans.
The odds against Giant acquiring another company, however, are about 100 to 1, Sykes says.
Acquisition of a local company would be next to impossible, he explained, because the Federal Trade Commission would probably object. At the same time, Giant has no interest in acquiring anyone outside the Washington area because it doubts it could find a company that is compatible with its operation and market strategy.
Giant increased the number of authorized shares primarily, Sykes explained, so that it would be in position to pay shareholders the increased stock dividend that was approved last month.
"That was all part of our total strategy--to share company profits with the stockholders, and we will continue to do that," Sykes insists.
As it turned out, the decision to raise the stock dividend has boosted Giant's stock more than a point above the 56 5/8 level it had reached just before trading was halted.
Contrary to popular belief, American Stock Exchange officials, not Giant, made the decision to halt trading in the company's stock. The Amex took the action after conferring with Giant in the wake of widespread speculation that caused a flurry of unusual action in the stock.
Meanwhile, it is, indeed, business as usual at Giant. The chain continues to strengthen its lead in the market, and with the demise of Memco, it's a safe bet that it will gain market share.
Sales and earnings results for the fiscal year, which ends in three weeks, are expected to show substantial increases over last year and, Sykes says, "We expect fiscal year 1984 will be a good year."