Pundit's Perspectives – Fri 22 Apr, 2016

Retailer Bankruptcies across the US

This post by Wolf Richter over at WolfStreet.com brings the struggles of US retailers to light. We have discussed this topic with Rick Ackerman in the past but Wolf lays out exactly which retailers have already filed for bankruptcies. There is no doubt that retail sales are struggling but I am not in the camp that this is a sign that the economy is imploding. Consumers are spending less but we are also undergoing a shift to more shopping online. Something to consider.

Click here to visit WolfStreet.com for the original posting plus other great articles.

Retailer Bankruptcies Are Hailing Down on the US Economy

There’s no respite in sight.

Another retailer is heading for bankruptcy. This time Aeropostale, with 800 teen-clothing stores, after three years in a row of losses. It’s “preparing to reorganize under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and could file as soon as this month, according to people familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg reported today.

Upon Bloomberg’s propitious report, Aeropostale shares plunged 28% to 15 cents. It has been a penny stock since last September. The New York Stock Exchange, which had threatened the company with delisting, removed the stock before 2 p.m. today, and trading of the shares has been suspended.

Bloomberg:

Aeropostale is trying to work out a loan to finance its operations during the bankruptcy process, according to the people. A deal to avert a filing or find a buyer also could still emerge, they said.

Which is what just about all collapsing retailers are valiantly trying to do. And often to no avail.

In March, Aeropostale had already announced that it would “evaluate strategic alternatives.” It hired Stifel Financial Corp. to work on a sale or restructuring. According to Bloomberg, it’s also working with law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and FTI Consulting, “people familiar with the matter said last week.”

As in so many cases, there is a private equity angle. PE firm Sycamore Partners owns a large state in Aeropostale and is its main lender. But they have been embroiled in a feud. Sycamore also owns Aeropostale’s key clothing supplier, MGF.

In 2013, when Sycamore acquired its stake in Aeropostale and lent if $150 million, it obtained two seats on the board and set up the supply deal with MGF. Bloomberg:

At the time, Sycamore was seen as possible savior for the troubled chain. Some investors expected the investment firm to eventually acquire the rest of Aeropostale, helping redeem a stock that has been declining since 2010.

But that didn’t work out. These hopeful investors lost their shirts. Sycamore’s two directors left Aeropostale’s board. In March, Aeropostale said that MGF has stopped delivering merchandise in violation of the terms of its agreement, leaving the retailer short on merchandise. MGF, as Bloomberg put it, said “it was merely seeking protection from Aeropostale.”

There are numerous other 1990s and 2000s brands that didn’t quite make the transition in the relentlessly tough US retail environment of squeezed consumers, fickle and picky teens, smart women, shoppo-phobic men, inscrutable millennials, and a brutal shift to online sales.

And now their bankruptcies are hailing down on the US economy with increasing intensity. Here are a few standouts in 2016 and 2015. Note the PE firms behind many of them:

April 16, 2016: Vestis Retail Group, the operator of sporting goods retailers Eastern Mountain Sports (camping, hiking, skiing, adventure sports), Bob’s Stores (family clothing and shoes), and Sport Chalet (general sporting goods), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It will close all 56 stores and stop online sales.

In the filing, it blamed the going-out-of-business sales at “certain Sports Authority locations,” plus the weather, which had been too warm, and trouble with switching to a new software platform. It’s owned by private equity firm Versa Capital Management LLC.

April 7, 2016: Pacific Sunwear of California, clothing retailer with nearly 600 stores and derailed ambitions of skate-and-surf cool, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. PE firm Golden Gate Capital, a lender to the company, agreed to convert over 65% of its loan into equity of the reorganized company and add another $20 million in financing. Wells Fargo agreed to provide $100 million of debtor-in-possession financing.

March 2, 2016: Sports Authority filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It said it would close 140 of its 450 stores, including all stores in Texas. In 2006, it had been taken over in a leveraged buyout by a group of PE firms led by Leonard Green & Partners [Another Private-Equity LBO Queen Bites the Dust].

February 2, 2016: Hancock Fabrics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, for the second time. It closed 70 of its retail sewing and crafting stores. Its inventories are being liquidated with going-out-of-business sales at the remaining 185 stores.

January 16, 2015: Wet Seal, teen fashion retailer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

October 2015: American Apparel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after years of all sorts of sordid turmoil – and losses since 2009.

In 2014, hedge fund Standard General entered into a deal with the company’s “controversial” founder and former CEO Dov Charney. The deal raised his stake to 43% but gave the hedge fund a big block of the shares as collateral. The hedge fund and some other investors also own a big part of American Apparel bonds and thus control the bankruptcy negotiations. The hedge fund expects to emerge owning about a quarter of the restructured company’s debt and about 5% of its new equity.

September, 2015: Quiksilver, surfwear retailer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In January, 2016, it emerged from bankruptcy and is now controlled by PE firm Oaktree Capital.

June, 2015: Anna’s Linens filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

April 2015: Frederick’s of Hollywood filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

February 2015: RadioShack filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In May 2015, Standard General took control of it in a bankruptcy auction.

February 2015: Cache Inc., women’s dress and formal-wear retailer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

January 2015: Body Central Corp, women’s clothing retailer, after announcing it was exploring a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, ended up not filing, but closed its 265 stores under a Florida process called “an assignment for the benefit of creditors.”

These are the ugly skid marks of the “end of the credit cycle,” as it’s called, an era when defaults and bankruptcies suddenly re-materialize, and when investors get to eat big losses in what they thought were conservative investments.

In March, total commercial bankruptcy filings by corporations of all sizes and other business entities jumped 25% from a year ago to a total of 3,351, with the two biggest culprits being energy and, well, retail. Read…  US Commercial Bankruptcies Suddenly Soar