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— "The company has no interest in selling, but if outside investors take a sizable position in the stock and try to pressure the board," it could happen, says Bud Leedom of Comstock Investment Advisors, who thinks Ridge's acquisition program has been more successful than critics say.

Ridge says he has no idea if a potential acquirer is looking at the company. If negotiations were going on, they would be made public, he says. Would the board accept an offer? "We're here to maximize shareholder value," he says -- the standard corporate response. Officers and board members control only 8.7 percent of the stock -- not enough to ward off a hostile offer. However, one large institution, Capital Research and Management of Los Angeles, owns another 10.2 percent. It could have some say in the matter.

One factor that would inhibit a takeover is that the company is already very profitable, says Allen. There has been severe slippage, but margins are still quite high. For example, back in 1996, the company earned an astounding 46.5 percent on equity, or ownership. That has been cut in half -- but last year's 23.6 percent is still very high by corporate standards.

That may be one reason why the stock is not cheap. It sells for 21.3 times its most recent 12-month earnings and 4.5 times its book value, or the value of its assets. "That's a stiff price," says Allen. "This company has always made amazing returns; it's clearly a pretty profitable company, and that's the rub. Any company paying a premium to buy it is not going to achieve a significant increase in profitability of WD-40. It is not a turnaround situation."

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