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Exclusive: Schulze's Best Buy bid seen in December, below $8 billion range

By Soyoung Kim and Olivia Oran and Dhanya Skariachan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An eventual bid for Best Buy Co Inc by founder Richard Schulze could come below his initial proposal of around $8 billion and is now not expected to be made before December, sources familiar with the matter said, in a new twist to the months-long saga at the struggling electronics retailer.

Schulze has done most of his due diligence on Best Buy and has formed a business plan to turn around the world's largest consumer electronics chain, with his efforts now focused on securing financing commitments, the sources said.

At least three private equity firms - Apollo Global Management LLC, TPG Capital LP and Leonard Green & Partners LP - are considering joining Schulze in the bid, the sources said. Cerberus Capital Management LP, which was among the buyout firms that weighed joining the bidding group, is no longer working on the deal, one of the four sources said.

The sources declined to be identified because the information is not public.

Schulze said in August he could buy Best Buy for $24 to $26 per share, valuing the deal between $8.16 billion and $8.84 billion and if debt is included, as much as $10.9 billion.

But Best Buy's shares have since fallen 24 percent to trade around $15.

While a final decision on the offer price has not been made, the drop in shares has raised the likelihood that Schulze's bid could be below $24 per share, the sources said.

Schulze is expected to take a 30-day extension to mid-December for submitting a final proposal to Best Buy's board, they said.

The consortium's efforts to clinch equity and debt commitments for what could be one of the largest leveraged buyouts of the year were delayed by superstorm Sandy which disrupted operations at several major Wall Street banks.

An extension will also give Schulze and the buyout firms a chance to see how Best Buy is performing in the crucial Christmas holiday season, the sources said.

Best Buy and Apollo declined to comment. The other private equity firms could not be reached for comment.

Best Buy has seen its fortunes falter over the years, as consumers increasingly use its big box stores as showrooms for products they end up buying online at Amazon and other websites. To add to its troubles, the company forced out Schulze's protegy Brian Dunn as CEO earlier this year amid allegations the executive was having an inappropriate relationship with a female employee.

That scandal also led to the ouster of Schulze, who founded the company in 1966, from the board, and to Best Buy hiring turnaround expert Hubert Joly as its CEO to come up with its own restructuring plan.

In October, the retailer, which has suspended its profit forecasts and share buybacks for the rest of the year, warned that earnings and same-store sales would fall in the third quarter. Joly plans to meet investors in New York on Tuesday to unveil his turnaround plan.

One analyst has said that Best Buy's declining fortunes could make a buyout more attractive for some investors.

"We are starting to believe that current shareholders may be more receptive to Schulze's previously disclosed offer of $24-$26 per share than we previously believed," Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said late last month.

There are no guarantees, however, that Schulze will ultimately be able to table an offer or that his eventual bid will be as attractive to shareholders.

Schulze has said he plans to fund any deal through a combination of private equity and debt financing, as well as the reinvestment of some of his own equity in the company.

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim, Olivia Oran and Dhanya Skariachan, Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Edwina Gibbs)

(This story was fixed to correct syntax in headline)

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