💊How's GNC Doing (Long Online Supplements, Short Fitness Stores)?💊

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A quick recap of PETITION’s coverage of everyone’s (cough, no one’s) favorite supplements slinger.

In August 2017 in “GNC Holdings Inc. Needs Some Protein Powder,” we wrote:

GNC Holdings Inc. ($GNC) remains in focus as it reported its Q2 numbers this past Thursday. In summary, decreased consolidated revenue, decreased domestic (company-owned and franchised) same-store sales, decreased net income and operating income, decreased manufacturing/wholesale business...basically a hot mess. Limited bright spots included China sales and the new GNC storefront on Amazon. You read that right: the storefront on Amazon. Ugh. The company has $52mm of cash, $163.1mm available under its revolver and a robust $1.5b of long-term debt on its balance sheet. The stock traded down 7% after the announcement (but was up on the week).

In February 2018 in “GNC Makes Moves (Long Brand Equity, Meatheads & Chinese Cash),” we introduced the great strides GNC was undertaking to avoid a bankruptcy filing. These actions included (a) paying down its revolving credit facility, (b) moving towards an amend-and-extend transaction vis-a-vis its term loan, (c) obtaining a $300mm capital infusion by way of issuance of a perpetual preferred security to CITIC Capital, a Chinese investment fund and controlling shareholder of Harbin Pharmaceutical Group, and (d) the formation of a JV in China whereby it would slap its brand on Harbin’s product.

The following month in “GNC Holdings Inc. & the Rise of Supplements,” we highlighted that the amend-and-extend got done. And this:

Concurrently, the company entered into a new $100 million asset-backed loan due August 2022 and engaged in certain other capital structure machinations to obtain $275 million of asset-backed “first in, last out” term loans due December 2022. Textbook. Kicking. The. Can. Which, of course, helped the company avoid Vitamin World’s bankrupt fate.  Goldman Sachs!

We also noted a number of DTC supplements companies that were juiced by financings or acquisitions, citing them as headwinds to GNC and GNC’s nascent DTC business. The stock traded at $3.97/share back then. And we wrote:

Perhaps those restructuring professionals disappointed by Goldman Sachs’ success in securing the refinancing should just put that GNC file in a box labeled “2021.”

We revisited GNC in May 2018 in “GNC Holdings Inc. Isn’t Out of the Woods Yet.” At that time, the stock hovered around $3.53/share and the company reported more bad news including (i) 200 store closures, and (ii) declining revenue, same store sales at domestic franchise locations, and net income. We wrote:

Clearly GNC’s future — now that it has some balance sheet breathing room — will depend on its ability to capture new international markets, e-commerce growth primarily through its private label, innovation around product to combat DTC supplements brands, and continued cost controls. It will also need to execute on its goal of translating e-commerce sales to foot traffic. To accomplish this Herculean task, GNC may just need some supplements.

Last July, we noted that revenue continued its downward trend but earnings generally beat (uber-low) expectations. In August, we highlighted how Goldman Sachs was acting very “Goldman-y,” given that Goldman Sachs Investment Partners was a major investor in DTC vitamins and supplements startup Care/of, which had just raised a $29mm Series B round. We’ve slacked on our coverage since.

So, like, what’s up with GNC now?

It reported earnings back in July and continued to show weakness. Quarterly consolidated revenue and adjusted EBITDA declined meaningfully — the latter down 3% YOY. Same store sales were down 4.6%. E-commerce was down 0.2%. Revenue from franchise locations decreased 1.8%.

The company blamed promotional offers it implemented at the beginning of the quarter for the lousy same-store sales results.

Early in the second quarter, we made some adjustments to some of our promotional offers and our marketing vehicles, and we saw a direct negative impact to the top line. We quickly course corrected and saw sales strengthen throughout the remainder of the quarter.

PETITION Note: somebody must have gotten fired. Hard. Nothing like dropping an idea that is so horrifically bad that it immediately resulted in a “direct negative impact to the top line.” YIKES.

Speaking of yikes, mall performance is, like, YIIIIIIIIIIIKES:

In addition, the negative trends in traffic that we've seen in mall stores over the past several years has accelerated during the past few quarters putting additional pressure on comps. As part of our work to optimize our store footprint, we're increasing our focus on mall locations. And as you know, we have a great deal of flexibility to take further action here due to the short lease terms we have across our store portfolio.

It's important to note that our strip center locations are relatively stable from a comparable sales perspective. As a reminder, 61% of our existing store base is located in strip centers while only 28% reside in malls.

As a result of the current mall traffic trends, it's likely that we will end up closer to the top end of our original optimization estimate of 700 to 900 store closures.

Mall landlords everywhere were like:


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💥PE Recruiting, Business Development & Retail Trends (Long Fiction Becoming Reality)💥

Summer is now long over which means we just went through all of the “holy sh*t, it’s only the beginning of September and private equity is ALREADY recruiting “talent” for 2021” puff pieces (paywall). Every year, recruiting season gets earlier and earlier and yet the business media still acts surprised/incredulous:

We swear BusinessInsider recycles this piece every single year. It’s like Runner’s World or Women’s Health publishing their “workout of the year” which is almost always the same “workout of the year” from last year.

Recruiting shenanigans have been going on now for years. And we’ve been all over it. Here’s what we wrote in June 2017 (Job Trends (Short Junior Associates/Analysts:)):

Despite rising junior associate salaries - which, notably, one loyal reader says is almost always a leading indicator of an oncoming downturn - millennials don't want that stinkin $180k starting salary, constantly-buzzing iphone, and flimsy business card. The beard is the new business card, brah. Just as investment bankers compete with Silicon Valley "tech" startups that drone deliver pinatas filled with kale chips (maybe we're kidding...maybe we're not), law firms are also struggling to retain young "talent." Why? Because millennials purportedly want to just mix drinks, cut hair, and have ephemeral existences. Good luck with the next recruiting season.

Then in mid-September 2017, we wrote in “Private Equity Recruiting is Bananas: M*therf*ckers Have Lost Their G*d-damned Minds”:

There is so much to unpack in this stupid piece about the annual private equity recruiting frenzy. First, let's stop calling kids who are weeks out of college "talent" merely because they got a job in an investment bank trainee program. They haven't proven that they're talented at anything just yet. Going to an ivy league school, having a trust fund and being a douche isn't dispositive of anything. So, everyone chime the f*ck down please. Second, these folks get paid $200k? And people say there's no wage inflation? Third, the idea that an ibanker trainee is going to be appreciative for the two years of training a bank has given them and, in turn, give later private equity business to said bank is ludicrous. As a practical matter, his/her connection to that bank lasts a mere few weeks prior to them securing the next bigger, better and more Tinderable gig with which they prefer to identify. This seems like an outdated model with bad assumptions baked into it. The only sure thing seems to be that no matter which one of the PE firms these trainees land at, they'll be hiring Kirkland & Ellis LLP as bankruptcy counsel for one of their busted portfolio companies. Fourth, we love this bit about recruiting being earlier than ever "after an agreement to hold back fell apart." Hahahaha. So, private equity firms - KNOWN FOR DEAL-MAKING - couldn't even come to a deal amongst themselves?? This is like mutually assured destruction among KKRWarburg PincusCarlyle Group LPApollo Global Management LLCBain CapitalBlackstone Group LPTPG and Golden Gate Capital. Here's a great idea: lets trip over ourselves - and each other - to hire people with literally "no work experience." Those interviews must be PAINFUL AF. And, oh, hey you Managing Director. We love that you're "often forced to cancel business meetings last-minute to interview candidates." We're sure a multi-billion dollar transaction can wait for some piss-ant Harvard bro who inexplicably and unnecessarily writes equations on glass to regale everyone with his rad math skills. So lit. On what basis are these kids REALLY getting hired then? We think it’s probably pretty obvious. And it’s questionable how this BS still flies. What does any of this have to do with disruption? Well, when you're competing with venture capital and tech to acquire "talent," desperate times seemingly call for desperate measures. Logic has been disrupted. And it's absurd.


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💥What to Make of the Credit Cycle. Part 30. (Long Signs of Coming Pain?)💥

This week the market got qualitative and quantitative signals that were decidedly mixed.

On Tuesday, the ISM U.S. manufacturing purchasing managers’ index registered 47.8% for September, the lowest reading since June ‘09, and the second straight month of deceleration. A number below 50% suggests economic contraction. Economists all over Wall Street bemoaned tariffs for diminished activity, with one Deutsche Bank economist noting “the recession risk is real.” President Trump, of course, parried, saying that higher relative interest rates and the strong dollar are to blame.

Similarly, pundits dismissed this data’s importance, noting that the US economy is more services-based (70% of growth) than manufacturing-oriented. In addition, a competing survey from IHS Markit showed some positivity, reflecting that “though the sector remains in contraction, the index rose for the second straight month.” It concluded that the US, China and emerging markets are all simultaneously improving. Ah, qualitative reports. Insert grain of salt here. 😬

On Thursday, the ISM non-manufacturing index — a widely watched measurement of the services sector — came out and the numbers were 💩. Like weakest in 3 years 💩💩💩 .

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🇺🇸Forever 21: Living the (American) Dream🇺🇸

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Back in June we kicked off coverage of Forever 21 Inc. with “💥Nothing in Retail is "Forever💥".

We then issued quick follow-ups in “💥Fast Forward: Forever21 is a Hot Mess💥” and “🍩Forever21 is Forever F*cking Up.🍩”

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Forgive us, then, for feeling like the company’s inevitable bankruptcy filing — which happened earlier this week — was a wee bit anticlimactic. After all, we all knew it was coming. As such, we felt the need to crank up some Kanye West to help get us through this additional coverage…

What you doing in the club on a Thursday?
She say she only here for her girl birthday
They ordered champagne but still look thirsty
Rock Forever 21 but just turned thirty — Kanye West in “Bound 2”

Just kidding, y’all. Kanye is garbage. We don’t listen to Kanye.*

Anyway, we’ve talked time and time again about how the papers that accompany a company’s chapter 11 bankruptcy petition are a perfect opportunity for a company to frame the narrative for the judge, parties in interest, the media and more. A company’s First Day Declaration, in particular, is the bankruptcy equivalent of home field advantage. Coupled with the first day hearing — usually held within a day or two of the bankruptcy filing — a debtor can leverage the First Day Declaration and the opportunity to present first to a courtroom to gain some sympathy from the judge for their current predicament and plant the seeds in the judge’s ears as to the direction of the case.

Except, over time, the judges must begin to get bored. After all, repetitive themes begin to emerge when you track bankruptcy cases. Themes like “the retail apocalypse.” Blah blah blah. The “Amazon Effect.” Oh, f*ck off. Disruption overcame the business! Zzzzzzz. Private equity is evil because they dividended themselves all of the company’s value! Yawn. There’s too much debt on the balance sheet! Typical. The lenders won’t play ball! Mmmm hmmm. The prior management was corrupt AF. Yup, it happens. Weather this year was uncharacteristically bad. Riiiight…that’s retail excuse-making 101.

And, so, it was with great excitement that we read that the Forever 21 bankruptcy stemmed from…wait for it…the American Dream. That’s right, the American Dream.

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In other words, this is a story about unbridled ambition and optimism.

*****

Here’s the short version: two immigrants came to this country in the early 80s from South Korea. They had nothing; they worked hard; they sought out opportunity:

During his time as a gas station attendant, Mr. Chang took notice of the customers that drove the most luxurious cars—the customers working in the garment industry. This realization piqued Mr. Chang’s interest. He recognized that together with his wife, they were perfectly suited to enter the fashion industry. This would enable the couple to capitalize on Mr. Chang’s relationship-building prowess and Mrs. Chang’s keen sense of fashion.

Putting aside how shady the notion of your gas station attendant creeping on you is, this is pretty amazing sh*t.

Mrs. Chang, and her nearly-clairvoyant ability to predict trends, were part of the catalyst that boosted Forever 21’s upswing.

Take note, people: this is the kind of pandering you should get when you pay $1,600/hour.

Anyway, over the years, the Changs built a business that employed tens of thousands of people and generated billions in sales. The Changs put their two daughters through ivy league schools and they subsequently joined the family business. This is a beautiful story, folks. Especially so in today’s fraught political environment where immigration remains a hot button issue. Together, as a family, the Changs grew this company to be a behemoth:

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And therein lies the rub. The company went from 7 international stores in 2005 to 251 by 2015.

Unfortunately, this rapid international expansion challenged Forever 21’s single supply chain and the styles failed to resonate over time across other continents despite its initial success.

It appears that the same entrepreneurial spirit that allowed the Changs to conquer the US led them astray internationally. Indeed, those European and Asian adventures — and the Chang daughters’ vanity project, Riley Rose — proved to be too costly. As you can see, while the domestic business has been in decline,** it still shows some promise. The international business, on the other hand, has really sucked the air out of the business⬇️.

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Sure, aside from the international issue, some of the usual excuses exist. Mall traffic is down. Not enough attention to e-commerce. Product assortment could have been better. The company had borrowing base issues under its asset-backed loan. Yada yada yada. But this doesn’t appear to be the absolute train wreck that other recent retailers have been. At least not yet.

So what now?

At the first day hearing, company counsel spared us any in-court singing,*** but did rely on some not-particularly-complex imagery. He said the company’s predicament is like a puzzle and that, to paraphrase, you sometimes just need to get all of the pieces to fit.

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Those pieces are:

The Footprint. Right-sizing the business by shuttering underperforming locations, domestically and internationally. The company currently spends $450mm in annual rent, spread across 12.2mm total square feet. The company will close 178 stores in the US and 350 in total. In other words, the company is mostly erasing its overzealous expansion; it will focus on selling cheaply made crap to Americans and our southern friends down in Latin America rather than poisoning the clothes racks in Canada, Europe and Asia. The new footprint will be around 600 stores. Or, at least, that’s the plan for now. Let’s pour one out for the landlords. Here is CNBC mapping out where all of the closures are and which landlords are hit the most. Also per CNBC:

At one point, two of Forever 21′s largest landlords, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners, were trying to come up with a restructuring deal where they would take a stake in the company to keep it afloat. It would’ve been similar to when Simon and GGP, which is now owned by Brookfield, bought teen apparel retailer Aeropostale out of bankruptcy back in 2016. But talks between Forever 21 and its landlords fell through, according to a person familiar with the talks. Simon and Brookfield are listed in court papers as two of Forever 21′s biggest unsecured creditors. Simon is owed $8.1 million, while Brookfield is owed $5.3 million, and Macerich $2.7 million.

Only one of the locations marked for closure, however, belongs to Simon Property Group ($SPG).

The company notes:

To assist with the initial component of the strategy, Forever 21’s management team and its advisors worked with its largest landlords to right size its geographic footprint. Four landlords hold almost 50 percent of its lease portfolio. To date, Forever 21 and its landlords have engaged in productive negotiations but have not yet reached a resolution. The parties have exchanged proposals and diligence is ongoing. Forever 21 looks forward to continuing to work with its landlords to reach a mutually agreeable resolution and proceeding through these chapter 11 cases with the landlords’ support.

In tandem with these negotiations, Forever 21 and its advisors met with nearly all of its individual landlords to discuss potential postpetition rent concessions and other relief on a landlord-by-landlord basis. Many of these smaller, individual negotiations proved more fruitful than negotiations with the larger landlords. Although Forever 21 has not finalized the terms of a holistic landlord deal as of the Petition Date, Forever 21 anticipates that good-faith negotiations with its landlord constituency will continue postpetition, and that all parties will work together to reach a consensual, value-maximizing transaction.

Company counsel asserts that, for landlords, Forever 21 is “too big to fail.” This kinda feels like this:

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But don’t worry: the A Malls are totally fine. 

And don’t worry about the loans (CMBX) at all. Noooooo.

Merchandising. Getting “Back-to-Basics” on the merchandising front and focus on the company’s “core customer base.” Here is Bloomberg’s Jordyn Holman casting some shade on this plan. And here is Bloomberg’s Sarah Halzack. While the bankruptcy papers certainly don’t highlight the competition, bankruptcy counsel made a point of highlighting H&MZara and Fashion NovaRetail Dive writes:

They did not grow with their target customer and the Millennials have graduated to Zara & H&M,’ Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told Retail Dive in an email. ‘Gen. Z is more interested in rental fashion and vintage hand-me-downs because they are more environmentally conscious.’

Interestingly, Stitch Fix Inc. ($SFIX) was up 5% on Monday while the RealReal Inc. ($REAL) was up 15%. (PETITION Note: both got clobbered on Tuesday, but so did everything else).

The Washington Post piles on:

“Slimming down the operation and reducing costs is only one part of the battle,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said in a note to clients. “The long-term survival of Forever 21 relies on the chain creating a sustainable and differentiated brand. This is something that will be very difficult to accomplish in a crowded and competitive sector.

Indeed, we’ve been writing for some time now that fast fashion seems out of sorts. Going “back to basics” may not actually be the right move in the end.

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🤔

Vendor Management. A quick digression: back in May, we wrote about Modell’s Sporting Goods avoidance of bankruptcy. Mr. Modell himself worked the phones and reassured most of his vendors, prompting them to continue doing business with the shrinking sporting goods retailer. This is a feature that you don’t get in PE-backed retail bankruptcies where you have hired guns on management. There, Mr. Modell’s legacy was at stake. He hustled. Likewise, here, the Changs personal business is threatened. Accordingly, the company met with 100 vendors representing 80+% of the vendor base and got them comfortable with continued business; they secured 130 vendor support agreements for equal or better terms. Everyone is invested in making a viable go of the ‘19 holiday season. Sometimes it pays to have someone who is truly invested be all over the supply chain.

Financing. The company’s capital structure is rather simple:

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The ABL is with JPMorgan Chase Bank NA as agent. The term loans were provided by the family. One from Do Won Chang for $10mm and the second from the Linda Inhee Chang 2012 Trust. Because nothing says “American Dream” like raiding your kid’s trust fund.

In conjunction with the bankruptcy, the company proposed a DIP credit facility in the form of (a) a $275 million senior secured super-priority ABL revolving credit facility, which includes a $75 million sub-limit for letters of credit and a “creeping roll up” of the pre-petition ABL Facility, and (b) a $75 million senior secured super-priority term loan credit facility, reflecting $75 million of new money financing. The company sought access to $60mm of the term loan at the hearing, indicating that with $40mm due in rent and $18mm in payroll, it would run out of cash without it. The judge approved this request.

And so here we are. The company intends to march forward with negotiations with its landlords, close tons of locations, sure up the vendor base, locate exit financing, and get this sucker out of bankruptcy in Q1 next year.

Ending up in bankruptcy certainly isn’t part of the American Dream. But living long enough to fight another day might just be.

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*H/t to @JordynJournals, retail reporter for Bloomberg News on this.

**The company notes that domestic sales have increased over the last 4 quarters.

***For those new to PETITION, the same lawyer from Kirkland & Ellis LLP that represents Forever 21 represented Toys R Us. In the now-infamous “first day” hearing in Toys, the attorney sang the Toys R Us jingle — “I don’t want to grow up…” — in the courtroom. Suffice it to say considering the outcome of that case, that tactic didn’t particularly age well. Indeed, this will age better, we reckon (won’t play in email, only in browser):

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📚Resources📚

We have compiled a list of a$$-kicking resources on the topics of restructuring, tech, finance, investing, and disruption. 💥You can find it here💥. We recently added “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” by Mike Isaac, which we blew through rather quickly. Next up on our list: “What it Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence” by Stephen A. Schwarzman, “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company” by Bob Iger, and “That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea,” by Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph.


💰New Opportunities💰

PETITION LLC lands in the inbox of thousands of bankers, advisors, lawyers, investors and others every week. Our website(s) are visited by thousands more. Are you looking for quality people. Posting your job opportunities with PETITION is a great way for your listing to stand out from the LKDN muck.

Email us at petition@petition11.com and write “Opportunities” in the subject line if you’re interested in information about posting your opportunities with us.


Nothing in this email is intended to serve as financial or legal advice. Do your own research, you lazy rascals.


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🤪A Break from Regularly Scheduled Programming (Long Life, Death, Sex & Work).🤪

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We can think of some pretty horrific ways to meet one’s maker — a snake jumping out of a plane toilet bowl, a crane falling on your head while you walk down the street, a sinkhole opening up and swallowing you hole — but we reckon that dying at your desk is up there on the list. Top 5, no doubt. We can picture it: you’re sitting there pencil-f*cking some wholly-unnecessary-lost-cause-hail-mary pitch deck or useless-bill-the-client-anyway associate memo and boom! Your head plops to the desk and you’re a goner. Godspeed to whomever inherits that luck-filled office. Chill vibes!

There are many ways that Europe has the US beat (and vice versa) but you really have to hand it to France’s liberal work-related incident policy. Check it: in “A French worker died after sex on a business trip. His company is liable” we learned…ah…wait. Just marinate on that headline for a second. It’s just too good.


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💥Another Gangbusters Quarter from Pier 1 (Long Slow Deaths)💥

Callback to previous Pier 1 Imports ($PIR) coverage here (Q1 ‘19 earnings summary), here (Q4, fiscal ‘18), and here ($71mm in cash remaining). Unfortunately, this will be our last coverage of the retailer because it appears to have pulled off a miracle turnaround of epic proportions: it CRUSHED Q2 earnings and appears to be well on its way to reclaiming “iconic” status!

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THIS THING IS A STEAMING TURD.

It’s even worse than we initially tweeted. Gross profit was 16.7% vs. 26.3% last year. The company’s operating loss expanded to $93.1mm compared to $62.5mm a year ago; it reported a net loss of $100.6mm or $24.29/share ($51.1mm and $12.68/share loss last year). The company noted “lower average customer spend” and “decreased store traffic.” And it sank $7mm into professional fees to help it right the ship. Management surely would’ve gotten torn up on the earnings call except, well, only one analyst was actually on the call. Nobody cares anymore. Anywho…


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🎯Experiences Galore: Dave & Buster’s Complains of Cannibalization (Short Arcades)🎯

We all know the pervasive narrative: when faced with a decision between purchasing expensive new dress shoes (a/k/a “deal sleds”) or tickets to Coachella, a lot of people today opt for those festival tickets. Why? Experiences. Everything today is apparently about experiences.

McKinsey & Company once wrote that:

Over the past few years, personal-consumption expenditures (PCE) on experience-related services—such as attending spectator events, visiting amusement parks, eating at restaurants, and traveling—have grown more than 1.5 times faster than overall personal-consumption spending and nearly 4.0 times faster than expenditures on goods.

This strong growth in demand for experiences had, for some time, shown well for those already situated in the space. The surging demand for experiences, however, has attracted new entrants, and may soon produce winners/losers in the space. Dave & Busters Entertainment Inc. ($PLAY) — a family-friendly chain offering a sports-bar-style setting for American food & arcade games — acknowledges this potential, among other things, in its most recent earnings call, announcing disappointing numbers


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⚡️Update: What's Up With Francesca's ($FRAN)?⚡️

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We first wrote about Houston-based Francesca’s Holdings Corp. ($FRAN) back in February when (i) the stock was trading at $0.92/share, (ii) the company had announced that it had retained Rothschild & Co. and Alvarez & Marsal LLC, and (iii) the company was coming off of a quarter where it (a) reported -14% same store sales, -10% net sales, and a net loss of $16mm, (b) acknowledged that 17% of its retail footprint was “underperforming,” and (c) blew out its fifth CEO in seven years. That’s all.

A lot has transpired since then. Going into its second quarter ‘19 earnings, the stock — after declining 80% over the last year — was suddenly and mysteriously on a small August upswing, reaching as high as $5.16/share on September 9 (PETITION Note: the company did a mid-summer 12-for-1 reverse stock split so that mostly explains the recovery from the $0.92/share level we’d previously written about but the upswing continued thereafter).

Then some weird sh*t happened. The company issued earnings and comp store sales were down 5% and net sales decreased 6%. Gross margins were also down.

Here is a snapshot of the company’s sales growth / (decline) over the years:

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The company noted a decrease in margin’s due to aggressive markdowns, here are EBITDA margins over the last few years:

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Here is the overall performance over the years:

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And yet the stock popped on the report:

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That’s right. It got as high as $18.14/share on this report. We know what you’re thinking: “that report sucks, the numbers were terrible.” Yes, yes indeed, they were. But, on a relative basis, this marked a dramatic improvement.


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💊Pushed Pills Pressure Purdue Pharma💊

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Long time PETITION readers should be, if they’re paying attention, identifying recurring themes confronting the various sectors of distress we cover. In retail bankruptcy, for instance, the stories generally contain the same elements: some combination of too much leverage (especially if PE-backed), too large an uneconomical brick-and-mortar footprint, slow adoption of e-commerce, poor supply chain management, awful off-trend product assortment, and disruptors (i.e., Amazon Inc., resale, DTC, etc.). In oil and gas, too much leverage backing capital intensive exploration and production initiatives, an unfavorable commodity environment, bloated SG&A, and too much money chasing outsized returns. In biopharma, new drugs are expensive and time-intensive to produce and often, despite potentially valuable IP and viable use cases, companies run out of money (and/or bust convertible debt) and are unable to continue paying to push their products through the regulatory framework absent a chapter 11. In healthcare, rollups of behavioral health, CCRC, rehab centers, etc., layer on too much debt on top of questionable business models in the face of an uncertain regulatory atmosphere.

And then there is another category: companies with little to no funded debt, minimal trade debt, an ability to fend off competition, and a viable product. What’s their problem? As we’ve seen in recent cases, i.e., Takata CorporationImerys Talc America Inc. (also discussed here), Insys Therapeutics Inc.The Diocese of Rochesterthose companies tend to get sued into oblivion on the basis of shady-as-sh*t business practices or other general degenerative scumbaggery.

And so it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone* that Oxycontin manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, has joined the fray, filing for bankruptcy this past week in the Southern District of New York (before the same judge administering the Sears sh*t show). Hold on to your butts people, this one ought to be interesting.

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Unless you’re a total ignoramus, you know by now that the country has been ravaged by an opioid epidemic. Here is 60 Minutes doing a deep dive into the issue. Here is the White House talking about “[e]nding America’s Opioid Crisis.” And here is John Oliver doing the John Oliver thing while talking about opioids.

We mean, you have to be willfully unaware or just plain stupid if you don’t know that this is a big problem. While numerous companies are implicated in this ever-visible scandal, Purdue Pharma is the biggest fish to fall to date (query how long that lasts). But, as noted above, Purdue Pharma generates a ton of money, has no funded debt, etc. So what it needs — and what it gets from a chapter 11 bankruptcy filing — is a break from the deluge of lawsuits against it. All 2,625 of them.

For the uninitiated, a bankruptcy filing triggers an automatic stay pursuant to section 362 of the bankruptcy code. This is an injunction, of sorts, that draws a line in the sand and prevents creditors from rushing to enforce their claims against a debtor. The idea is that by halting this rush and providing the debtor a “breathing spell,” the debtor will have a better opportunity to configure a go-forward strategy that is not only to its benefit, but also treats similarly situated claimants fairly. As you might imagine in a litigation scenario where there are literally thousands of potential judgement creditors scattered across various state and federal courts across the country, this is a powerful tool. It prevents Mia Wallace, plaintiff #1, from winning a huge judgement and collecting against that judgement to the point of siphoning away all of the debtors’ asset value before Vincent Vega, plaintiff #2, has had his day in court.** It also helps the debtors triage the outrageous expense involved with defending heaps of lawsuits all across the country; indeed, the Purdue Pharma debtors note that they spend $5mm/week — A WEEK! — defending themselves against litigation. They project to spend approximately $263mm on legal and related professional costs in 2019. That’s no typo, folks. Biglaw lawyers charge mint.

Here’s the thing about that “automatic stay” thing, though: there are exceptions to it — including, most relevant here, one that’s commonly referred to as the “police and regulatory power exception” (section 362(b)(4)). To preempt the applicability of this section, the debtors have already filed a “preliminary injunction motion,” seeking to enjoin continued prosecution of active governmental litigation against them (and a long slate of related parties, i.e., the entire Sackler family tree).***


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🤔A GameStop Turnaround Story? (Long Skepticism)🤔

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PETITION is generally about disruption and one notable retail business is clearly in the midst of a secular sea change*…

On September 10, GameStop Corp. ($GME) reported Q2 ‘19 earnings. They weren’t, to put it kindly, dogsh*t. The results reflected a sharp decline in sales -14.3% from $1,501mm in Q2 ‘18 to $1,286mm, driven by a 41% drop in console sales and 18% reduction in pre-owned sales. Comparable same stores sales declined 11.6%. To make matters worse, GameStop gave investors lower guidance than expected. On last Tuesday’s earnings call management noted:

We are approaching the end of the current console cycle with nice generation consoles slated to be available in late 2020, and as such we expect our year-over-year sales to be down over the next three or four quarters, reflecting the end of that cycle.

Such confidence and enthusiasm!! The shift to digital video games is clearly cutting GameStop out as the middleman, and increased competition is eating up its market share: the business is becoming increasingly cyclical.**

On the earnings callBen Schachter, equity analyst at Macquarie Group, had some questions for management about the shift to digital in the video game industry and how $GME is going to adapt:

Can we talk about high-level -- the shift to digital, and then how it impacted the business? So a few questions on that. One, when you think about the next cycle, what percentage of total game, do you think are going to be sold physically versus digital? And what your share might look like in that? Two, how do you expect to participate in digital? How will that evolve for you guys versus what it is today? And then three, around the used business, what does that look like as we move more to digital?

Management responded:


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PG&E Picks Up the Pace (Long Seth Klarman)

 
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Well, that sure didn’t last long. In “Is it a Plan or a Placeholder?,” we discussed the recently proposed plan of reorganization filed by PG&E Corporation and Pacific Gas and Electric Company ($PCG). We wrote:

Moreover, the plan also depends on the “Subrogation Wildfire Claims” — claims “held by insurers or similar entities in connection with payments made to others on account of damages or losses arising from such wildfires” — coming in at a max $8.5b.[] Will these numbers hold? We suspect the answer is an emphatic ‘no.’

As much as we like being right, we certainly weren’t expecting it to happen so soon.

A mere few days after filing its plan of reorganization, PG&E announced an $11b settlement with parties representing 85% of the Subrogation Wildfire Claims. This settlement, still subject to the approval of the Bankruptcy Court, would satisfy and discharge all insurance subrogation claims against the Debtors arising from the 2017 Northern California wildfires and the 2018 Camp fire.” Per Reuters:

The company also amended its equity financing commitment agreements to accommodate the claims, and reaffirmed its $14 billion equity financing commitment target for its reorganization plan.

One amendment was an increase in the “Wildfire Claims Cap” to $18.9b from $17.9b. The debtors understand the signaling here: with the subrogation claimants almost immediately getting $2.5b more than what was in the plan, they prudently indexed higher to account for wildfire claimant expectations.

Despite the assumption of $3.5b more in liabilities (exclusive of earlier settlements), this is a net positive for PG&E. They removed one constituency from the board (assuming they don’t trade out of their claims and blow up the settlement), got a legitimate impaired accepting class to help usher the plan through, and moved themselves closer to a global settlement.

Anyway, the stock — somewhat mysteriously considering the marked INCREASE in liabilities — reacted favorably to the news, up over 11% on the week and erasing Monday’s post-plan blistering:

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Previously in PETITION. Part II (Short Tony the Tiger)

In June 23rd’s “Plastic is Ripe for a Reckoning (Long Ridiculous Branded Water)and in a short follow-up on June 30, we talked about how plastic has a bullseye on it. In the latter, we wrote:

Meanwhile, we were curious whether all of this talk about aluminum and glass taking over for plastic was having an effect elsewhere. Compare the bids for Anchor Glass Container Corp’s $150mm second lien term loan maturing 2024:

On May 6, the bid was 55.6 with a yield-to-worst of 25.2%.

On June 24, the bid was 71.4 with a yield-to-worst of 18.5%.

Long bullishness on glass containers?

S&P clearly doesn’t think so:

Here is where the second lien term loan traded this week: 70.7.

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☁️WeWork (Long Corporate Governance Wonks)☁️

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Surely you're sick of WeWork — uh, excuse us, “The We Company” — by now. There's been more drama surrounding its upcoming IPO than an episode of The Hills. You’ve likely heard about the $60b-to-$47b-to-$20b-to-$10b valuation drop, the wave pool, the dual-class voting structure, the insider deals between Adam Neumann, landlord, and Adam Neumann, tenant, and so on and so forth. We won’t rehash it all for you. We do have some word limitations. 

We do wonder if the events of the past two weeks are a sign of less frothy times ahead. After all, investors -- equity and bonds -- have gotten so accustomed to getting bent over the last several years that we're going long rheumatologists. Knees must be hurting.


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🔥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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