🔥Around the Horn (Long Professional Fees, Anger, and Nothing Happening About It)🔥

1. PG&E Corporation ($PCG)

A bit over a week ago, we wrote the following in “PG&E Shareholders are Looking Increasingly PG&F’d”:

We’ve been negligent with our coverage — really, lack thereof — of the PG&E Corporation ($PCG) bankruptcy. Why? Well. Why bother, really? Eight months in and this sucker doesn’t appear much closer to a resolution.

This remains true. But it doesn’t mean sh*t ain’t happening. And most of it hasn’t been great for the company:

  • No Bonds for You. California Assemblyman Chad Mayes reportedly pulled legislation that might have given the company access to as much as $20mm in tax-exempt Wildfire Victim Recovery Bond proceeds (which would be repaid via future “profits” rather than rate increases). “PG&E for weeks had been lobbying lawmakers to pass the legislation, arguing that quick access to the bond money is critical to its effort to settle wildfire claims and emerge from bankruptcy court by next summer.” Why? Obviously, that amount of money could go a long way to addressing the company’s stupendous-yet-contingent liabilities. Maybe…just maybe…depending on politicians was ill-advised.

  • Sweep Under the Rug. Wrongdoing may be a feature not a bug. Without ever confirming allegations, PG&E has apparently made a habit of paying state and federal penalties and legal settlements over the years. The WSJ pegs the number at $2.6b over 23 years. This thing is a liability machine.


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🗞The NYT, New Media Models & Snowflake Subscribers🗞

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Take a look at these revenue numbers:

This, ladies and gentlemen, represents the most recently reported revenue from New York Times Co. ($NYT). It’s also evolution, illustrated.

We all know the story: in an age of heaps of free media and secular decline of print, media companies are (a) in the midst of a great pivot away from the ad-based business model and (b) as part of a hybrid model, leaning more heavily upon recurring-revenue-producing subscription (and other) products.

This pivot — and the reason for it — couldn’t be clearer from the reported Q2 ‘19 earnings. As you can see above, advertising revenue is flat, while subscription and “other” revenue is growing.

Generally speaking, the report was sound. The company added 131k net subscriptions; it also separately grew its separate subscription channels for “Cooking” and “Crossword,”* and launched a news series, “The Weekly,” on FX and Hulu (PETITION Note: we can’t help but question the long-term success of this series: who really wants to go to Hulu to watch a NYT news series? In the end, that didn’t work for Vice News on HBO. That said, this series apparently contributed to a 30% increase in “other” revenue in the quarter, so, who knows? Maybe we’re dead wrong). In total, subscriptions were up by 197k and the company now reports 3.8mm digital-only subscribers.

On the negative side, the company’s operating costs are increasing and, in turn, its operating profit is decreasing (down $4mm YOY) as it looks to grow its digital channels, properly analyze and manage its sales funnel, acquire additional journalist talent, etc. Some choice bits relating to subscriptions from the earnings call:

Total subscription revenues increased 4% in the quarter with digital-only subscription revenue growing 14% to $113 million. On the print subscription side, revenues were down 2.5% due to declines in the number of home delivery subscriptions and continued shift of subscribers moving to less frequent and therefore less expensive delivery packages as well as a decline in single copy sales. This decrease in print subscription revenues was partially offset by a home delivery price increase that was implemented early in the year.

Total daily circulation declined 8.5% in the quarter compared with prior year, while Sunday circulation declined 7.1%.

No surprises here. Digital is ⬆️, print is ⬇️, and even where there is print, the average revenue per user is shifting down in large part due to subscribers opting for ⬇️ delivery frequency. Interestingly, people are also buying fewer newspapers on the fly (“single copy sales”).

On the advertising side:

Total advertising revenue grew 1.3% compared with the prior year with digital advertising growing 14% and print declining by 8%. The increase in digital advertising revenue was largely driven by growth in direct sold advertising on our digital platforms, including advertising sold in our podcast and our creative services business. The print advertising result was mainly due to declines in the financial services, retail and media categories, partially offset by growth in technology.

The stock market did not act favorably — note the demarcation below:

Indeed, as of the time of this writing, the share price is down 20% from where it was on the date of the release.

There are some interesting takeaways here. First, podcasts continue to be a source of growth for many a media company — despite the lack of viable analytics across the podcasting space. Second, the second order effects of the decline in retail and media are notable. Third, the company’s purchase of Wirecutter is feeding its “other” revenue which implies — though it is not line-itemed — that affiliate-related revenue is a growing part of the business (long Amazon!).**

As for guidance, the company forecasted continued YOY subscription growth in the low-to-mid single digits, a decrease in ad revenue, and an increase in “other” revenue. Notably, “other” revenue also includes income from subletting office space, commercial printing, and licensing deals (i.e., when the NYT is referenced in a movie, etc.).

It will be interesting to see whether the NYT can continue to demonstrate subscriber growth in the midst of a hyper-polarized political environment. To point, a shift to subscribers is not without its dangers. Recently the NYT came under pressure both for (i) its 1619 Project about slavery and (ii) a headline describing President Trump’s reaction to the El Paso and Dayton shootings. Per The Wrap:

The New York Times saw an increase in subscription cancellations after a reader backlash over its lead headline on a story about a Donald Trump speech on Monday, a Times spokesperson told TheWrap.

The paper has “seen a higher volume of cancellations today than is typical,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday.

In an age of hyper-competition for the marginal dollar, this is a big problem. In a story about the dismal performance of the Los Angeles Times’ digital initiatives (net 13k subscriptions in the first six months of ‘19), Joshua Benton writes for Neiman Lab:

But once you get all those subscribers signed up, you’ve got to prove yourself worthy of their money, over and over again. Churn has always been an issue for newspapers, but it’s even more of one in a world of constant competition for subscription dollars. (“Hmm, Netflix raised their price — do I really use that L.A. Times subscription?”) Retention is critical to making reader revenue the bedrock of the new business model….

That’s what happens when you switch to a subscriber model. Investors care less about ad revenue and more about subscriber growth. Each individual subscriber matters. And retention really matters.

*****

But retention cannot come at a cost. A publication must establish values and live up to them. Take, for instance, this note we received from a reader recently:

“Your writings are done well, interesting, and humorous. However, take it from me and many of my colleagues, your anti-Trump insults are aggravating and misguided.  Some of us are considering unsubscribing because of it.”

He is referring to this piece, “Tariffs Tear into Tech+,” wherein we wrote about the recent escalation in trade hostility as follows:

We’re frankly not sure why this is controversial. All we did was insinuate that the man is intemperate (is that really even debatable?) and describe him in his own words.

President Trump’s policies — for better or for worse — have an impact on the economy. The delivery of those policies infuses volatility into the markets. It affects whether a company will commit to investing millions in coming months; it affects sales; it affects consumer spending which, in case you didn’t notice, is, for now, the only thing keeping GDP afloat. We’re going to write about that. And we’re going to do so in our usual voice. Just like we would if a democrat were in office: we’re equal opportunity snark.***

So, sure, Mr. Orange County, feel free to cancel your Membership if you think we’re misguided. That’s just what we all need: another highly educated person running for the hills because a few words didn’t comport with his sensibilities. Thanks for summing up this country’s current plight of discourse/discord in three sentences.

In conclusion, we won’t be bullied, subscription be damned.

*Impressively, the Cooking product has 250k subscribers and the Crosswords product has 500k subscribers.

**For those who don’t know, an affiliate fee is essentially a referral fee for sending traffic over to an affiliate partner that ultimately results in a transaction. So, for instance, if you go to Wirecutter.com to look up best back-to-school backpack and click on their #1 choice, a L.L. Bean ‘Quad Pack,’ and buy one, Wirecutter earns approximately 4% on that purchase.

***Case and point: we’ve previously asked, “Are Progressives Bankrupting Restaurants?

🚴‍♂️The Rise of Home Fitness: Peloton Files its S-1 (Long Twitter Fodder)🚴‍♂️

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In case you haven’t heard, Peloton Inc. filed its S-1 earlier this week. An S-1 is like a bankruptcy First Day Declaration. It’s an opportunity to sell and control a narrative. In the case of the S-1, the filer wants to appeal to the markets, drum up FOMO, and maximize pricing for a public capital raise (here, $500mm). So, yeah, want to call yourself a technology / media / software / product / experience / fitness / design / retail / apparel / logistics company? Sure, go for it. In an age of WeWork, a la-dee-da-kibbutz-inspired-community-company-that-may-or-may-not-be-valued-like-a-tech-company-despite-being-a-real-estate-company, hell, anything is possible.

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Frankly, we’re surprised Peloton didn’t throw in that it’s a “CBD-infused-augmented-reality-company-that-transacts-in-Pelotoncoin-on-the-blockchain company” for good measure. Go big or go home, dudes! PETITION Note: the bankruptcy/First-Day-Declaration equivalent of this absurdity must be every sh*tty retailer on earth claiming to be an “iconic” brand with loyal shoppers who, despite that loyalty, never spend a dollar at said retailers, all while some liquidators are preparing to sell them for parts:

But we digress.

For those who don’t live in Los Angeles or New York and are therefore less likely to know what the hell Peloton is (despite its 74 retail showrooms in the US, Canada and UK and pervasive ad-spend), it is a home fitness company that sells super-expensive hardware ($2,245 for the flagship cycle and $4,295 for the treadmill)* and subscription-based fitness apps ($39/month). It’s helped create the celebrity cycling trainer and aims to capture the aspirational fitness enthusiast. And, by the way, it’s a real company. Here are some numbers:

  • $196mm net loss (boom!) on $915mm of revenue in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019 ((both figures up from 2018, which were $47.8mm and $435mmmm, respectively, meaning that the loss is over 4x greater (boom!!) while revenue grew by over 2x));

  • Hardware revenues increased over 100%, subscription grew over 100% and “other” revenue, i.e., apparel, grew over 100%;

  • 511,202 subscribers in 2019, up from 245,667 in 2018;

  • 577k products sold, with all but 13k in the US;

  • a TAM that, while not a ludicrous as WeWork’s the-entire-planet-is-an-opportunity-pitch, is nonetheless…uh…aggressive with total capture at approximately 50% of ALL US HOUSEHOLDS

and;

  • $994mm VC raised, $4+b valuation;

A big part of that net loss is attributable to skyrocketing marketing spend. But, Ben Thompson highlights:

Peloton spends a lot on marketing — $324 million for 265,535 incremental Connected Fitness subscribers (a subscriber that owns a Peloton bike or treadmill), for an implied customer acquisition cost (CAC) of $1,220.18 — but that marketing spend is nearly made up by the incremental profit ($1,161.40) on a bike or treadmill. That means that subscription profits are just that: profits.

The company also claims very low churn** — 0.70%, 0.64%, and 0.65% in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively — though this thread ⬇️ points out some obfuscation in the filing and questions the numbers (worth a click through):

Ben Thompson hits on churn too, noting that major company promotions haven’t rolled off yet:

Only the 12 month prepaid plans have rolled off; the 24 and 39 month plans are still subscribers whether or not they are using their equipment (and given the 0% financing offer, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of them). 

Surely roadshow attendees will have questions on this point and then, market froth being market froth, totally disregard whatever the answers are. 😜

The company also highlights some tailwinds: (a) an increasing focus on health and fitness, especially at the employer level given rising healthcare costs and a general desire to offset them;** (b) the rise of all-things-streaming; (c) the desire for community; and (d) significantly, the demand for convenience. We all work more, weather sucks, the kids wake up early, etc., etc.: it’s a lot easier to work out at home. This thread ⬇️ sure captured it (click through, it’s hilarious):

Which is not to say that the company doesn’t have its issues.*** It appears that like most other fitness products, there’s seasonality. People buy Pelotons around the holidays, after making New Year’s resolutions they undoubtedly won’t keep. There are also some lawsuits around music use. As we noted above, the marketing spend is through the roof ($324mm, more than double last year) and SG&A is also rising at a healthy clip. Many also question whether Peloton’s cult-like status will fizzle like many of its fitness predecessors. And, of course, there’s that cost. Lots or people — ourselves included — have questioned whether this business can survive a downturn.

Indeed, among a TON of risk factors, the company notes:

An economic downturn or economic uncertainty may adversely affect consumer discretionary spending and demand for our products and services.

Our products and services may be considered discretionary items for consumers. Factors affecting the level of consumer spending for such discretionary items include general economic conditions, and other factors, such as consumer confidence in future economic conditions, fears of recession, the availability and cost of consumer credit, levels of unemployment, and tax rates.

And:

To date, our business has operated almost exclusively in a relatively strong economic environment and, therefore, we cannot be sure the extent to which we may be affected by recessionary conditions. Unfavorable economic conditions may lead consumers to delay or reduce purchases of our products and services and consumer demand for our products and services may not grow as we expect. Our sensitivity to economic cycles and any related fluctuation in consumer demand for our products and services could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, and operating results. (emphasis added)

Now ain’t that the truth. This will be an interesting one to watch play out.

*****

Questions about the company’s stickiness in a downturn notwithstanding, we ought to take a second and admire what they’ve done here. Take a look ⬇️

Sure, sure, it’s a ridiculous metric in an SEC filing but…but…look at the total number of workouts. Look at the average monthly. Unless Peloton is truly expanding the category, those workouts are coming out of someone else’s revenue stream. Remember: SoulCycle did pull its own IPO some time ago.

In a recent piece about the rise of home fitness and the threat it poses to conventional gyms and studios, the Wall Street Journal noted:

U.S. gym membership hit an all-time high in 2018, but the rate of growth cooled to 2% after a 6% rise the year before, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. Much of the decade’s growth has been fueled by boutique studios like CrossFit, Orangetheory and SoulCycle, whose ability to turn fitness into a communal experience has sparked fierce loyalty to their brands. IHRSA says it’s too early to tell whether streaming classes will reduce club visits. CrossFit, SoulCycle and Orangetheory say they don’t see at-home streaming fitness programs as a threat.

We find that incredibly hard to believe. Is there correlation between the slowdown and growth and Peloton’s 128% and 108% growth from ‘17-’18-’19? Peloton may be more disruptive than the naysayers give it credit for.

Back to Ben Thompson:

Like everyone else, Peloton claims to be a tech company; the S-1 opens like this:

We believe physical activity is fundamental to a healthy and happy life. Our ambition is to empower people to improve their lives through fitness. We are a technology company that meshes the physical and digital worlds to create a completely new, immersive, and connected fitness experience.

I actually think that Peloton has a strong claim, particularly in the context of disruption. Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma states:

Disruptive technologies bring to a market a very different value proposition than had been available previously. Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value. Products based on disruptive technologies are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.

It may seem strange to call a Peloton cheap, but compared to Soul Cycle, which costs $34 a class, Peloton is not only cheap but it gets cheaper the more you use it, because its costs are fixed while its availability is only limited by the hours in the day. Sure, a monitor “underperforms” the feeling of being in the same room as an instructor and fellow cyclists, but being able to exercise in your home is massively more convenient, in addition to being cheaper.

Moreover, this advantage scales perfectly: one Peloton class can be accessed by any of its members, not only live but also on-demand. That means that Peloton is not only more convenient and cheaper than a spinning class, it also has a big advantage as far as variety goes.

The key breakthrough in all of these disruptive products is the digitization of something physical.

In the case of Peloton, they digitized both space and time: you don’t need to go to a gym, and you don’t have to follow a set schedule. Sure, the company does not sell software, nor does it have software margins, but then neither does Netflix. Both are, though, fundamentally enabled by technology.

If Thompson is right about that value proposition, is it possible that, in a downturn, Peloton can win? At $40/class, it would take 57 classes to break even on the hardware and then you’re getting a monthly subscription for the cost of one class. Will people come around to the value proposition because of the downturn?****🤔

Before then, we’ll find out whether the market values this company like a tech hardware company or a SaaS product. And the company can use the IPO proceeds to market, market, market and try and lock-in new customers before any downturn happens. Then we’ll really test whether those churn numbers hold up.

*The company doesn’t break out the success of the two other than to say that the majority of hardware revenue stems from the bike. We would reckon a guess that the treadmill is losing gobs of money.

**It stands to reason that the company would have strong retention rates given the high fixed/sunk cost nature of its product.

***One risk factor is curiously missing so we took the initiative to write it for them:

We sell big bulky products that appeal more to coastal elites.

Unfortunately, given the insanity if housing prices and spatial constraints, a lot of our potential customers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York simply may not have room for our sh*t.

****Unrelated but WeWork’s Adam Neumann insists that WeWork presents an interesting value proposition in a downturn: viable office space without the long-term locked in capital commitment. It’s not the craziest thing we’ve heard the man say.


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🤖How is Tech Doing? (Long Self-Imposed Pain)🤖

Silicon Valley Bank ($SIVB) recently issued its “State of the Markets” report, reflecting tech-related activity over the first six months of 2019. Suffice it to say, despite a number of potential headwinds, e.g., trade wars and fears of stagnating global growth (particularly in Europe and China), tech continues to thrive. The question is: can that continue? Here are some key charts from the report:

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As we were writing this China announced that it would retaliate with tariffs on $75b more of US goods (with US auto taking a large hit of 25% on cars and 5% on parts).* As you no doubt know, President Trump responded in his usually temperate manner:

…blah blah blah…something fentanyl…blah blah blah. The stable genius and “Chosen One” then moved the US closer to the easily winning the trade war (cough) by imposing 30% tariffs on $250b of Chinese goods and 15% tariffs on an additional $300b of goods. Anyway, it’s safe to say that these headwinds will only get stronger and will have a big effect on tech.** To point, tech names got battered post-tweets:

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Why? Well…

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But, sure, tweets and stuff. Nothing to see here. Anyway, give the presentation a gander: it has some good slides on the state of venture capital, enterprise vs. consumer IPOs, and international developments.

*****

Meanwhile, The Information came out with this doozy earlier this week:


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☎️Who Knew? People Don’t Use Landlines Anymore? (Short the Peso, Short US-denominated EM Debt).☎️

We’re all for a reprieve from retail and energy distress. Hallelujah.

Maxcom USA Telecom Inc. is a telecommunications provider deploying “smart-build” approaches to “last mile” connectivity (read: modems, handsets and set-up boxes) for enterprises, residential customers and governmental entities in Mexico — which is really just a fancy way of saying that it provides local and long-distance voice, data, high speed, dedicated internet access and VoIP tech, among other things, to customers.* It purports to be cutting edge and entrepreneurial, claiming “a history of being the first providers in Mexico to introduce new services,” including (a) the first broadband in 2005, (b) the first “triple-play” (cable, voice and broadband) in 2005, and (c) the first paid tv services over copper network using IP…in 2007. That’s where the “history” stops, however, which likely goes a long way — reminder, it’s currently the year 2019 — towards explaining why this f*cker couldn’t generate enough revenue to service its ~$103.4mm in debt.** Innovators!!

And speaking of that debt, it’s primarily the $103.4mm in “Old Notes” due in 2020 that precipitated this prepackaged bankruptcy filing (in the Southern District of New York).***

The Old Notes derive from a prior prepackaged bankruptcy — in 2013 (PETITION Note: not a “Two-Year Rule” violation) — and were exchanged for what were then outstanding 11% senior notes due in 2014. These Old Notes have a “step-up interest rate,” which means that, over time, the interest rate…uh…steps up…as in, increases upward/up-like. The rate currently stands at 8%. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t have revenue step-ups/upwardness/upseedayzee to offset the interest expense increase; rather, the company “…incurred losses of $4.9 million for the three months ended June 30, 2019, as compared to losses of $2.9 million for the three months ended June 30, 2018, and losses of $16 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, compared to losses of $.8 million for the year ended December 31, 2017….” Compounding matters are, among other things, the negative effects of decreased interest income and foreign currency exchange rates (the dollar is too damn strong!).**** The closure of the residential segment also, naturally, affected net revenue.


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💩There’s No End in Sight for Retail Pain (Long the “Playbook”)💩

Retail, retail, retail.

Brutal. Absolutely B.R.U.T.A.L.

Avenue Stores LLC, a speciality women’s plus-size retailer with approximately 2,000 employees across its NJ-based HQ* and 255 leased stores,** is the latest retailer to find its way into bankruptcy court. On Friday, August 16, Avenue Stores LLC filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the District of Delaware. Like Dressbarn, another plus-size apparel retailer that’s in the midst of going the way of the dodo, any future iteration of the Avenue “brand” will likely exist only on the interwebs: the company intends to shutter its brick-and-mortar footprint.

What is Avenue? In addition to a select assortment of national brands, Avenue is a seller of (i) mostly “Avenue” private label apparel, (ii) intimates/swimwear and other wares under the “Loralette” brand and (iii) wide-width shoes under the “Cloudwalkers” brand. The company conducts e-commerce via “Avenue.com” and “Loralette.com.” All of this “IP” is the crux of the bankruptcy. More on this below. 

But, first, a digression: when we featured Versa Capital Management LP’s Gregory Segall in a Notice of Appearance segment back in April, we paid short shrift to the challenges of retail. We hadn’t had an investor make an NOA before and so we focused more broadly on the middle market and investing rather than Versa’s foray into retail and its ownership of Avenue Stores LLC. Nevertheless, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can now see some foreshadowing baked into Mr. Siegel’s answers — in particular, his focus on Avenue’s e-commerce business and the strategic downsizing of the brick-and-mortar footprint. Like many failed retail enterprises before it, the future — both near and long-term — of Avenue Stores is marked by these categorical distinctions. Store sales are approximately 64% of sales with e-commerce at approximately 36% (notably, he cited 33% at the time of the NOA). 

A brand founded in 1987, Avenue has had an up-and-down history. It was spun off out of Limited Brands Inc. and renamed in 1989; it IPO’d in 1992; it was then taken private in 2007. Shortly thereafter, it struggled and filed for bankruptcy in early 2012 and sold as a going-concern to an acquisition entity, Avenue Stores LLC (under a prior name), for “about $32 million.” The sale closed after all of two months in bankruptcy. The holding company that owns 100% of the membership interests in Avenue Stores LLC, the operating company, is 99%-owned by Versa Capital Management. 

Performance for the business has been bad, though the net loss isn’t off the charts like we’ve seen with other recent debtors in chapter 11 cases (or IPO candidates filing S-1s, for that matter). Indeed, the company had negative EBITDA of $886k for the first five months of 2019 on $75.3mm in sales. Nevertheless, the loss was enough for purposes of the debtors’ capital structure. The debtors are party to an asset-backed loan (“ABL”) memorialized by a credit agreement with PNC Bank NA, a lender that, lately, hasn’t been known for suffering fools. The loan is for $45mm with a $6mm first-in-last-out tranche and has a first lien on most of the debtors’ collateral. 

The thing about ABLs is that availability thereunder is subject to what’s called a “borrowing base.” A borrowing base determines how much availability there is out of the overall credit facility. Said another way, the debtors may not always have access to the full facility and therefore can’t just borrow $45mm willy-nilly; they have to comply with certain periodic tests. For instance, the value of the debtors’ inventory and receivables, among other things, must be at a certain level for availability to remain. If the value doesn’t hold up, the banks can close the spigot. If you’re a business with poor sales, slim margins, diminishing asset quality (i.e., apparel inventory), and high cash burn, you’re generally not in very good shape when it comes to these tests. With specs like those, your liquidity is probably already tight. A tightened borrowing base will merely exacerbate the problem.


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⛽️Oil & Gas Continues to Be a Free-for-All (Long Houston’s Restaurant Scene)⛽️

Speaking of borrowing bases and being f*cked, there’s also Alta Mesa Holdings LP(“AMH”), a Houston-based E&P company focused on the Anadarko stack. See, the funny thing about asset-backed loans is that when the asset quality deteriorates, a bank, to no one’s surprise, wants to reduce its credit exposure and borrower risk. This is why lenders bake in “redetermination rights” into their credit documents; they want the flexibility to ratchet down their commitment to a borrower should the borrower, say, sh*t the bed in a big big way. 

In case you haven’t been paying attention, oil and gas, as an industry, has been sh*tting the bed in a big BIG way. 

Hence, Alta Mesa’s SEC filing earlier this week that it received notice pursuant to its credit agreement, that the borrowing base has been reduced from $370mm to $200mm. YIKES. 

Let’s, for sh*ts and giggles, parse out the filing, shall we? 

“AMH’s combined borrowings and letters of credit outstanding exceed the new borrowing base by $162.4 million.” 

PETITION Note: Ruh roh. Just like that, the lenders have put the squeeze on AMH. AMH meet world of hurt. World of hurt, meet AMH.


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❓How’s Oil and Gas Doing. (Spoiler Alert: Not Well)❓

Callback to May 12’s “Fast Forward - Oil & Gas is SO 2019.” We wrote:

In March’s “Oil and Gas Continues to Crack (Long Houston-Based Hotels),” we wrote:

The bankruptcy waiting room is becoming standing room only for oil and gas companies despite oil resting near 2019 highs (even after a rough 2% decline on Friday). We’ve previously mentioned Jones Energy ($JONE)Sanchez Energy Corporation ($SN)Southcross Energy Partners LP ($SXEE)Vanguard Natural Resources, Alta Mesa Holdings LP ($AMR) and Chaparral Energy Inc. ($CHAP) in “⛽️Is Oil & Gas Distress Back?⛽️.” Based on earnings reports or other SEC filings this week, add Emerge Energy Services LP ($EMES), EP Energy Corporation ($EPE) and Approach Resources Inc. ($AREX) to the list.

And:

Here’s the bottom line: both amend-and-extended and formally restructured oil and gas companies were an option on oil prices. That option is out of the money for a number of these companies. The end result will be an uptick in Texas’ hotel reservations and bankruptcy fees. And soon.

We also wrote:

Legacy Reserves Inc. ($LGCY) is yet another E&P company that looks like it may be destined for the bankruptcy bin. The company announced this week that it is evaluating strategic alternatives. It subsequently filed its 10-K which included going concern language and, significantly, confirmation that the company’s lenders had agreed to extend the company’s maturity under its credit agreement from April 1 to May 31, 2019. This is like a good movie needing a bit more production time prior to theatric release: usually, the movie ultimately it gets released. Likewise, this will ultimately end up in bankruptcy court.

Let’s take stock of the bankruptcy bodybag count since then:

  • Jones Energy ✅;

  • Southcross Energy Partners LP ✅;

  • Vanguard Natural Resources ✅;

  • Sanchez Energy Corporation ✅;

  • Emerge Energy Services LP ✅;

  • Legacy Reserves ✅.

Meanwhile, EP Energy Corporation ($EPEG) reportedly just missed its $40mm interest payment due under the indenture governing its 8.000% 1.5 Lien Notes due 2025 (due on August 15, 2019). Of course, there’s also been a number of private oil-and-gas companies 


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⚡️Update: Interlogic Outsourcing Inc.⚡️

We wrote about this bankruptcy filing on August 11. We noted the highly competitive landscape confronting outsourced payroll, benefits and human resources services companies. Because the bankruptcy filing wasn’t complete at the time of publication, however, we didn’t have the opportunity to add that the company descended into bankruptcy primarily because its sole owner (fraudulently?) mismanaged the company and misappropriated approximately $90mm. Uh oh.

The result? A free fall into bankruptcy one month after an independent director took over management of the business, a CRO came on board (Huron) and an expedited sale process commenced. This world being the savage world it is, competitors started picking off company clients and so the value of this company appears to be dissipating before our eyes with each passing day. The company has a $7.8mm DIP commitment in place from pre-petition lender, KeyBank NA.


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💩Yes, Let’s Get Right to It: Retail Blows. The End.💩

 

You have to respect the brevity deployed by Lolli and Pops Inc., the sweets retailer that filed for bankruptcy in the District of Delaware on Monday. In a shockingly-yet-refreshingly terse 8-page first day declaration, the company and its affiliated debtors’ CRO justified the bankruptcy filing by saying, in effect, the following: retail blows. The funny thing is that the document could have been even shorter. We’ll give it a shot:


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⚡️Summer Announcement⚡️

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As we’ve previously announced, we’re a bit more bandwidth constrained now that we’re deep into summer and so we’re going to use this opportunity to, among other things, (a) update some processes on the backend and (b) experiment with content distribution. For instance, we never actually A/B tested whether recurring Wednesday and Sunday a$$-kicking briefings were the right way to deliver our content. What’s an A/B test, you ask?

Consider a scenario where you know you’re going to be pitching juicy retail mandates 20 straight times against XYZ Group, a competitor restructuring advisor. You can go in with the same basic pitch framework each time and roll the dice but, ultimately, you’ll have no data to judge your strategy. You might as well just be throwing darts.


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📦Nerds Lament: Subscription Box Company Goes BK📦

We’re old enough to remember when subscription boxes were all the rage. The e-commerce trend became so explosive that the Washington Post estimated in 2014 that there were anywhere between 400 and 600 different subscription box services out there. We reckon that — given the the arguably-successful-because-it-got-to-an-IPO-but-then-atrocious-public-foray by Blue Apron Inc. ($APRN) — the number today is on the lower end of the range (if not even lower) as many businesses failed to prove out the business model and manage shipping expense.

And so it was only a matter of time before one of them declared bankruptcy.

Earlier this morning, Loot Crate Inc., a Los Angeles-based subscription service which provides monthly boxes of geek- and gaming-related merchandise (“Comic-con in a box,” including toys, clothing, books and comics tied to big pop culture and geek franchises) filed for bankruptcy in the District of Delaware.* According to a press release, the company intends to use the chapter 11 process to effectuate a 363 sale of substantially all of its assets to a newly-formed buyer, Loot Crate Acquisition LLC. The company secured a $10mm DIP credit facility to fund the cases from Money Chest LLC, an investor in the business. The company started in 2012.

Speaking of investors in the business, this one got a $18.5mm round of venture financingfrom the likes of Upfront VenturesSterling.VC (the venture arm of Sterling Equities, the owner of the New York Mets), and Downey Ventures, the venture arm of none other than Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. At one point, this investment appeared to be a smashing success: the company reportedly had over 600k subscribers and more than $100mm in annualized revenue. It delivered to 35 countries. Inc Magazine ranked it #1 on its “Fastest Growing Private Companies” listDeloitte had it listed first in its 2016 Technology Fast 500 Winners list. Loot Crate must have had one kicka$$ PR person!

But life comes at you fast.

By 2018, the wheels were already coming off. Mark Suster, a well-known and prolific VC from Upfront Ventures, stepped off the board along with two other directors. The company hired Dendera Advisory LLC, a boutique merchant bank, for a capital raise.** As we pointed out in early ‘18, apparently nobody was willing to put a new equity check into this thing, despite all of the accolades. Of course, allegations of sexual harassment don’t exactly help. Ultimately, the company had no choice but to go the debt route: in August 2018, it secured $23mm in new financing from Atalaya Capital Management LP. Per the company announcement:

This financing, led by Atalaya Capital Management LP ("Atalaya") and supported by several new investors (including longstanding commercial partners, NECA and Bioworld Merchandising), will enable Loot Crate to bolster its existing subscription lines and improve the overall customer experience, while also enabling new product launches, growth in new product lines and the establishment of new distribution channels.

Shortly thereafter, it began selling its boxes on Amazon Inc. ($AMZN). When a DTC e-commerce business suddenly starts relying on Amazon for distribution and relinquishes control of the customer relationship, one has to start to wonder. 🤔

And, so, now it is basically being sold for parts. Per the company announcement:

"During the sale process we will have the financial resources to purchase the goods and services necessary to fulfill our Looters' needs and continue the high-quality service and support they have come to expect from the Loot Crate team," Mr. Davis said.

That’s a pretty curious statement considering the Better Business Bureau opened an investigation into the company back in late 2018. Per the BBB website:

According to BBB files, consumers allege not receiving the purchases they paid for. Furthermore consumers allege not being able to get a response with the details of their orders or refunds. On September 4, 2018 the BBB contacted the company in regards to our concerns about the amount and pattern of complaints we have received. On October 30, 2018 the company responded stating "Loot Crate implemented a Shipping Status page to resolve any issues with delays here: http://loot.cr/shippingstatus[.]

In fact, go on Twitter and you’ll see a lot of recent complaints:

High quality service, huh? Riiiiiiight. These angry customers are likely to learn the definition of “unsecured creditor.”

Good luck getting those refunds, folks. The purchase price obviously won’t clear the $23mm in debt which means that general unsecured creditors (i.e., customers, among other groups) and equity investors will be wiped out.***

Sadly, this is another tale about a once-high-flying startup that apparently got too close to the sun. And, unfortunately, a number of people will lose their jobs as a result.

Market froth has helped a number of these companies survive. When things do eventually turn, we will, unfortunately, see a lot more companies that once featured prominently in rankings and magazine covers fall by the wayside.

*We previously wrote about Loot Crate here, back in February 2018.

**Dendera, while not a well-known firm in restructuring circles, has been making its presence known in recent chapter 11 filings; it apparently had a role in Eastern Mountain Sports and Energy XXI.

***The full details of the bankruptcy filing aren’t out yet but this seems like a pretty obvious result.

⚡️Here a Sale. There a Sale. Everywhere a Sale Sale! (Long Bankruptcy Code Section 363)⚡️

In a nutshell, bankruptcy code section 363 allows a debtor to sell assets free and clear of liens and encumbrances.

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In other words, a company can sell itself and the buyer can leave a bunch of bad sh*t behind. It’s a powerful tool and helps the buyer avoid any sort of “fraudulent conveyance” liability down the road. We’re seeing a proliferation of 363-based bankruptcy cases. In the last week, for instance, Barneys New York Inc., iPic-Gold Class Entertainment LLC, and Perkins & Marie Callender’s LLC all filed with the intent of pursuing sales (PETITION Note: see, also, Jack Cooper Ventures Inc. below).


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⛽️Halcon Resources Poised to be the Next Oil & Gas Chapter 22 (Long Kerosene)⛽️

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Nearly three years after its last prepackaged plan of reorganization wiped $1.8 billion of debt off of the company’s balance sheet, onshore E&P company, Halcon Resources Corporation ($HKRS), is once again on the bankruptcy courthouse steps with another prepackaged bankruptcy. This company is burning debt like a baaaaaaaaaaaawse.

In the prior bankruptcy, the company eliminated $1b of 13% ‘22 senior secured third lien notes, $316mm of 9.75% ‘20 senior notes, $297mm of 8.875% ‘21 senior notes, $37mm of 9.25% ‘22 senior notes, and $290mm of 8% ‘20 senior convertible notes. The majority of the equity in the reorganized entity went to the third lien noteholders, with other equity going to unsecured holders (15.5%), convertible noteholders (4%) and common stockholders (4%). That equity holds very little value today. The stock traded publicly up until July 23, 2019, when the Nasdaq delisted the company’s shares ($HR) and the stock began trading on OTC pink sheets under the $HKRS symbol.

Meanwhile, here’s what the company’s current debt sitch looked like this as of the most recent 10-Q:


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📽A $5.7mm “Human Error” (Short Bankruptcy Projections)📽

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Never try to cover sh*t up in corporate America. That is f*ck up #1 and a sure-fire way to get yourself pink-slipped. When you screw up in corporate America — and you WILL screw up in corporate America — the right approach is to squelch the temptation to sweep that f*ckup under the rug and, instead, fess up to the mistake with a solution in hand. That last part is key: accepting responsibility isn’t enough. “Responsibility” in corporate America includes having a fix for the issue.

A bit over a week ago, in the Z Gallerie LLC bankruptcy matter, the professionals kinda sorta followed this protocol.

In a statement filed with the bankruptcy court (Docket 464), the company described how it achieved the Herculean feat of selling Z Gallerie’s abysmal business (for ~$20mm) and confirming a plan of confirmation three-months-to-the-day from the petition date.* The company emphasized that it was incentivized to move the cases rapidly to (a) avoid a liquidation trigger under its DIP credit facility, (b) preserve value for the company’s prospective buyer by avoiding a long, drawn-out in-court proceeding that would surely have the effect of leaking value in today’s complex dog-eat-dog retail environment, and (c) “ensure[] that those who provide actual, necessary benefits to the company during its distress are paid in full.” To do this, however, the company had to do a wee bit of forecasting; it had to estimate its administrative claims to ensure that the company would have enough cash at sale closing to satisfy those claims.

The company performed this analysis and, ultimately, the company’s interim CEO declared to the bankruptcy court that, indeed, it, would have enough cash to satisfy priority and administrative claims under the plan (including DIP claims, professional fee claims, and other administrative and priority claims). But, as it turns out — and as PETITION readers know ALL TO WELL from our ongoing review of feasibility projections — forecasts are subject to, from time to time, “significant errors and omissions.” Or, put another way, “human error.” Or put another way, these mathematicians missed their numbers by $5.7mm. Or put ANOTHER way, this case puts the PETITION “Two-Year Rule” in an entirely new light. It’s one thing to realize that your projections are off within two years; it’s an entirely different story to realize you’re off within two months! 😬

So, what happened?

Up until roughly a week ago, the estate had been administered by a “Wind-Down Trust” that had been spearheaded by the company’s CFO. That CFO, however, was apparently too busy auditioning for a new job — uh, serving as DirectBuy’s main “transition” point of contact — to properly administer the trust. In a statement (Docket 465) in which the interim CEO acknowledged that he’s “ultimately responsible” for the estate, he simultaneously goes to great lengths to establish a record of ineptitude on the part of the company’s CFO. He failed to reconcile accounts, he failed to accurately predict invoices from the company’s delivery companies, etc. etc.** This is what the delta looks like:

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💰How are the Investment Banks Doing?(Long Chapter 15s?)💰

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On Sunday, we wrote about the stellar earnings reports from Evercore Inc. ($EVR) and Houlihan Lokey ($HLI). Are they outliers?

Apparently…no.

PJT Partners Inc. ($PJT) reported earnings this week and they, too, knocked it out of the park. The firm reported a 28% increase in revenues YOY ($167mm) and a 35% increase in advisory revenue ($133mm). These guys are killing it. Regarding the restructuring team, CEO Paul Taubman said:

Revenues grew significantly in the second quarter compared to the prior year and are ahead of last year’s levels for the six-month period. Our Restructuring business maintained its leadership position, ranking Number One in US and global completed restructurings for the first half of 2019. Our outlook for the full year remains essentially unchanged, notwithstanding near record low interest rates, historically low default rates and extremely benign credit conditions, we expect restructuring revenues for the full year to be flat to only modestly down. Despite this muted macro backdrop, we are working on an increased number of Restructuring mandates, which should serve us well entering 2020.

In addition to pounding his chest, Mr. Taubman provided some market commentary as well — particularly with respect to the notion that all of the “dry powder” in the market will impact M&A and distressed situations and Europe:


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⚡️Data, Baby, Data (Long Ambitious Lawyers)⚡️

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Man. The hits just keep on coming for retailers. 

First, a callback to 2014. 

Back in 2014, Twilio Inc. ($TWLO) was a lesser known private company that solved a basic problem: it allowed software developers to programmatically make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages, and perform other communication functions using its web service APIs. In English? It connected businesses to customers. It was the ultimate "be where your customers are" power move: increasingly, customers are writing or reacting to texts. Twilio enables text message blasts to large groups. This was a total game changer for businesses: it gave them an avenue to connect in a more personal way to their customers and rise above the muck of email (PETITION Note: which is not to say that we don't LOVE email). And now Twilio is an a $18b market cap company:


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💰How are the Investment Banks Doing?(Long Increasing Fees?)💰

Evercore Inc. ($EVR) reported earnings this week and, well, inflation exists somewhere. The company increased adjusted revenue by 18% YOY to $535.8mm. Net income increased by nearly $18mm. The bank reported a decline in the number and dollar volume of its deals but…BUT…numbers nevertheless improved thanks to a strong move in investment banking advisory fees (up 22% YOY). With 81 earned fees of $1mm or more compared to 85 last year, the company appears to be adding clients and raising fees. Because the bank doesn’t delineate restructuring revenues separate and apart from other advisory services, it’s unclear to what degree restructuring is adding or detracting from performance — from either a deal volume or fee perspective. 

Houlihan Lokey ($HLI) also reported earnings; it notched a 14% revenue increase YOY ($250mm) and a 44% net income increase. Financial restructuring revenues increased 57%! Surprisingly, however, the bank noted that “[r]evenue increased primarily as a result of an increase in the number of closed transactions, partially offset by a reduction in the average transaction fee.” Curious. 


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🕸Spiderman Can’t Save Everyone (Short iPic Entertainment)🕸

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Most moviegoers probably think $17 for a movie ticket is expensive enough and so, more likely than not, they go to the nearby AMC or Regal theater to get their latest shot of Disney-fed superhero drivel. For those who REALLY want to make an event out the movies, however, there is another option: iPic Entertainment Inc’s ($IPIC) “upscale” theater experience. This “experience” includes cocktails, plush pleather couches and waitered food service. All of that pampering can cost upwards of $30/ticket — and that’s just for the movie. Add in the food and this chain probably contributes its fair share to the personal bankruptcy market.

The chain has 123 locations across 16 states, including California, Florida and New York City. How on earth does it make sense to go that route when a month of Netflix costs a fraction of that? Throw in some “chill” and, well, it seems pretty obvious which option has more appeal (insert creepy wink here). Spoiler alert: it ain’t iPIC. 


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😬Securitization Run Amok (Long the ABS Market)😬

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On Sunday, in “💥Securitize it All, We Say💥,” we continued our ongoing “What to Make of the Credit Cycle” series with discussion of, among several other things, Otis, a new startup that intends to securitize cultural assets and collectables like sneakers, comic books, works of art, watches and more. We quipped, “What isn’t getting securitized these days?” If we do say so ourselves, that is a: GOOD. EFFING. QUESTION. Why is securitization all of the rage these days? EVEN. BETTER. EFFING. QUESTION. The answer: YIELD, BABY, YIELD.

Back in early June, Bloomberg’s Brian Chappatta reported on the rise of “esoteric asset-backed securities known as ‘whole business securitizations.’” Restaurant chains with large swaths of franchisees, long-standing operations, and dependable brands, he wrote, are using these instruments to access cheaper financing in a yield-starved market. He wrote:

The securities are about as straightforward as the name implies — franchise-focused companies sell virtually all of their revenue-generating assets (thus, “whole business”) into bankruptcy-remote, special-purpose entities. Investors then buy pieces of the securitizations, which tend to have credit ratings five or six levels higher than the companies themselves, according to S&P Global Ratings. Creditors take comfort in knowing the cash flows are isolated from bankruptcy.

Cumulative gross issuance of whole-business securitizations reached about $35 billion at the end of 2018, compared with about $13 billion just four years earlier, according to S&P. The past two years have been banner years for the structures, with $7.9 billion offered in 2017 and $6.6 billion last year, according to data from Bloomberg News’s Charles Williams.

These structures are contributing to the deluge of BBB-rated supply.


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