What to Make of the Credit Cycle Part 12 (Long Yield, Baby, Yield).

The Rise of Litigation Finance

Investors have to generate yield somewhere. Hence, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum, the rise of alternative investment avenues such as venture capital and litigation finance. Wait. Litigation finance? Yes. Think Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan and Gawker. This is a booming space.

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#BustedTech's Secret: Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors

Long Private Markets as Public Markets

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⚡️🤓Nerd alert: we need to lay a little foundation in this one with some legal mumbo-jumbo. Consider yourself warned. Solid payoff though. Stick with it.🤓⚡️

Allow us to apologize in advance. It’s summer time and yet we’ve been nerding out more often than usual: on Sunday, we dove into net-debt short activism, for goodness sake! We know: you want to just sit on the beach and read about how Petsmart implicates John Wick. We get it. Bear with us, though, because there is a business development aspect to this bit that you may want to heed. So attention all restructuring professionals (and, peripherally, start-up founders and venture capitalists)!

Recently the Turnaround Management Association published this piece by Andrew De Camara of Sherwood Partners Inc, describing a process called an “assignment for the benefit of creditors” (aka “ABC”). It outlines in systematic fashion the pros and cons of an ABC, generally, and relative to a formal chapter 11 filing. When the bubble bursts in tech and venture capital, we fear a number of you will, sadly, become intimately familiar with the concept. But there’ll be formal bankruptcies as well. ABCs won’t cut it for a lot of these companies at this stage in the cycle.

Let’s take a step back. What is the concept? Per Mr. De Camara:

An ABC is a business liquidation device governed by state law that is available to an insolvent debtor. The ABC procedure has long existed in law and is sometimes addressed in state statutes. In an ABC, a company, referred to as the assignor, transfers all of its rights, title, and interest in its assets to an independent fiduciary known as the assignee, who liquidates the assets and distributes the net proceeds to the company’s creditors. The assignee in an ABC serves in a capacity analogous to a bankruptcy trustee in a Chapter 7 or a liquidating trustee in a Chapter 11.

He goes on to state some characteristics of an ABC:

  • Board and shareholder consent is typically required. “If a company is venture-backed, it may be required to seek specific consent from both preferred and common shareholders. It is possible to enter publicly traded companies into an ABC; however, the shareholder proxy process increases the difficulty of effectuating the ABC and results in a much longer pre-ABC planning process.”

  • There is no discharge in an ABC.

  • Key factors necessitating an ABC include (a) negative cash burn + no access to debt or equity financing, (b) lender wariness, (c) Board-level risk as a lack of liquidity threatens the ability to pay accrued payroll and taxes, and (d) diminished product viability.

And some benefits of an ABC:

  • ABC assignees have a wealth of experience conducting liquidation processes;

  • The assignee manages the sale/liquidation process — not the Board or company officers — which, as a practical matter, tends to insulate the assignee from any potential attack relating to the process or sale terms;

  • Lower admin costs;

  • Lower visibility to an ABC than a bankruptcy filing;

  • Secured creditors general support the process due to its time and cost efficiency, not to mention distribution of proceeds; and

  • Given all of the above, the process should result in higher distributions to general unsecured creditors than, say, a bankruptcy liquidation.

Asleep yet? 😴

Great. Sleep is important. Yes or no, stick with us.

ABCs also have limitations:

  • Secured creditor consent is needed for use of cash collateral.

  • Buyers cannot assume secured debt without the consent of the secured creditor nor is there any possibility for cramdown like there is in chapter 11.

  • There is, generally, no automatic stay. This bit is critical: “While the ABC transfers the assets out of the assignor and therefore post-ABC judgments may have no practical value or impact, litigation can continue against the assignor, and the assignee typically has neither the funding nor the economic motivation to defend the assignor against any litigation. In addition, hostile creditors may decide to shift their focus to other stakeholders (i.e., board members or officers in their capacity as guarantors or fiduciaries) if they believe there will likely be no return for them from the ABC estate.”

  • Assignees have no right to assign executory contracts, diminishing the potential value of market-favorable agreements.

  • No free-and-clear sale orders. Instead you get a “bill of sale.” Choice quote: “A bill of sale, particularly from an assignee who is a well-known and well-regarded fiduciary, is a very powerful document from the perspective of creditor protection, successor liability, etc., but it does not have the same force and effect as a free-and-clear sale order from a bankruptcy court.”

The question right now is, given the robust nature of the capital markets these days, should you care about any of the above? Per Pitchbook:

This is a golden age for venture capital and the startup ecosystem, as illustrated by PitchBook's latest PitchBook NVCA-Venture Monitor. So far this year, $57.5 billion has been invested in US VC-backed companies. That's higher than in six of the past 10 full years and is on pace to surpass $100 billion in deal value for the first time since the dot-com bubble.

Fundraising continues at breakneck speed. Unicorns are no longer rare, and deal value in companies with a $1 billion valuation or more is headed for a new record. The size of VC rounds keeps swelling. Deep-pocketed private equity players are wading in.

Signs of success (or is it excess?) are everywhere you look. On the surface, delivering a resounding verdict that the Silicon Valley startup model not only works, it works well and should be emulated and celebrated.

But what if that's all wrong? What if this is another mere bubble and the VC industry is in fact storing up pain…?

That's the question posited by Martin Kenney and John Zysman—of the University of California, Davis, and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively—in a recent working paper titled "Unicorns, Cheshire Cats, and the New Dilemmas of Entrepreneurial Finance?"

Instead of spending millions, or billions, in the pursuit of unicorns that could emulate the "winner-takes-all" technology platform near-monopolies of Apple and Facebook and the massive capital gains that resulted, VC investors and their LP backers could instead be buying a bunch of fat Cheshire cats. Bloated by overvaluation, and likely to disappear, leaving just a smile and big losses, since many software-focused tech startups have no tangible assets.

They then ask whether there’s more here than meets the eye. More from Pitchbook:

The problem is that this cycle has been marked by easy capital and a fetishization of the early-to-middle parts of the tech startup lifecycle. Lots of incubators and accelerators. "Shark Tank" on television. "Silicon Valley" on HBO. Never before has it been this easy and cheap to start or expand a venture.

Yet on the other end of the lifecycle, exit times have lengthened, as late-series deal sizes swell, reducing the impetus to IPO (in search of public market capital) or sell before growth capital runs out.

So, what’s the problem?

…in the view of Kenney and Zysman, the VC industry lacks discipline, seeking disruption and market share dominance without a clear path to profitability. You see, VC-fueled startups aren't held to the same standard as existing publicly traded competitors who must answer to investors worried about cash flows and operating earnings every three months. Or of past VC cycles where money was tighter, and thus, time to exit shorter.

We’ll come back to the public company standard in a second.

The interesting thing about the private markets becoming the new public markets (with funding galore) is that when the crazy frenzy around funding (PETITION NOTE: read the link) eventually stops, the markets will just be the markets. And all hell will break lose. The question then becomes whether a company has enough liquidity to stem the tide. What happens if it doesn’t?

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An ABC may very well be a viable alternative for dealing with the carnage. But with private markets staying in growth stages privately for longer, doesn’t that likely mean that there’s more viable intellectual property (e.g., software, data, customer lists)? That a company has a bigger and better San Francisco office (read: lease)? That directors have a longer time horizon advising the company (and, gulp, greater liability risk)? Maybe, even, that there’s venture debt on the balance sheet as an accompaniment to the last funding round (after all, Spotify famously had over $1b of venture debt on its balance sheet shortly before going public)?

All of which is to say that “the bigger they come, the harder they fall.” When the music stops — and, no, we will NOT be making any predictions there, but it WILL stop — sure, there will be a boatload of ABCs keeping (mostly West Coast) professionals busy. But there will also be a lot of tech-based bankruptcies of companies that have raised tens of millions of dollars. That have valuable intellectual property. That have a non-residential real property lease that it’ll want to assign in San Francisco’s heated real estate market. That have a potential buyer who wants the comfort of a “free and clear” judicial order. That have shareholders, directors and venture capital funds who will want once-controversial-and-now-very-commonplace third-party releases from potential litigation and a discharge.

Venture capitalists tend to like ABCs for private companies because, as noted above, they’re “lower visibility.” They like to move fast and break things. Until things actually break. Then they move fast to scrub the logos off their websites. What’s worse? Visibility or potential liability?

And then there are the public markets.

A month ago, we discussed Tintri Inc., a California-based flash and hybrid storage system provider, that recently filed for bankruptcy. Therein we cautioned against IPOs of companies with “massive burn rates.” We then went on to highlight the recent IPO of Domo Inc. ($DOMO) and noted it’s significant cash burn and dubious reasons for tapping the public markets, transferring risk to Moms and Pops in the process. The stock was trading at $19.89/share then. Here is where it stands now:

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In the same vein, on Monday, in response to Sunday’s Members’-only piece entitled “😴Mattress Firm's Nightmare😴,” one reader asked what impact a potential Mattress Firmbankruptcy filing could have on Purple Innovation, Inc. ($PRPL), the publicly-traded manufacturer and distributor of Purple bed-in-a-box product. Our response:

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And we forgot to mention rising shipping costs (which the company purports to have mitigated by figuring out…wait for it…how to fold its mattresses).*

And then yesterday, Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide (who is excellent by the way) reported that “Cash Wildfire Spreads Among Young Tech Companies.” She wrote:

It’s time to get real about the financial fragility of young technology companies. Far too many are living beyond their means, flirting with disaster and putting their investors at risk. 

Bloomberg Opinion examined 150 U.S. technology companies that had gone public since the beginning of 2010 and were still operating independently as of Aug. 10. About 37 percent had negative cash from operations in the prior 12 months, meaning their cash costs exceeded the cash their businesses had generated. 

A handful of the companies, including online auto dealer Carvana Co., the mattress e-commerce company Purple Innovation Inc. and health-care software firm NantHealth Inc., were on pace to burn through their cash in less than a year, based on their current pace of cash from operations and reserves in their most recent financial statements.

In addition to Purple Innovation, Ms. Ovide points out that the following companies might have less than 12 months of cash cushion: ShiftPixy Inc. ($PIXY), RumbleON Inc. ($RMBL), RMG Networks Holding Corp. ($RMGN), NantHealth Inc. ($NH), Carvana Co. ($CVNA), and LiveXLive Media Inc. ($LIVX).

She continued:

The big takeaway for me: Young technology companies in aggregate are becoming more brittle during one of the longest bull markets ever for U.S. stocks. This trend is not healthy. Companies that persistently take in less cash than they need to run their businesses risk losing control of their own destinies. They need continual supplies of fresh cash, which could hurt their investors, and the companies may be in a precarious position if they can’t access more capital in the event of deteriorating market or business conditions.

It’s not unusual for young companies, especially fast-growing tech firms, to burn cash as they grow. But the scope of the companies with negative cash from operations, and the persistence of some of those cash-burning companies for years, was a notable finding from the Bloomberg Opinion analysis.

Notable, indeed. There will be tech-based ABCs AND bankruptcies galore in the next cycle. Are you ready? Are you laying the foundation? Are you spending too much time skating to where the puck is rather than where it will be?


*We’ll take this opportunity to state what should be obvious: you should follow us on Twitter.

But, seriously, and more importantly, we know we tout the disruptive effects of the direct-to-consumer model. But make no mistake: we are WELL aware that a number of these upstarts are going to fail. Make no mistake about that.

Bubbles (Short Prognisticators…Nobody Effing Knows)

This Morgan Housel piece talks about the psychology of bubbles. Good investors understand fundamentals but also have a sense for which direction the wind is blowing. This bit resonated:

Lehman Brothers was in great shape on September 10th, 2008. That’s what the statistics said, anyway.

Its Tier 1 capital ratio – a measure a bank’s ability to endure loss – was 11.7%. That was higher than the previous quarter. Higher than Goldman Sachs. Higher than Bank of America. Higher than Wells Fargo. It was more capital than Lehman had in 2007, when the banking industry and economy were about the strongest they had ever been.

Four days later, Lehman was bankrupt.

The most important metric to Lehman during this time was confidence and trust among short-term bond lenders who fed its balance sheet with capital. That was also one of the hardest things to quantify.

What to Make of the Credit Cycle. Part 8. (Long Yield, Baby. Yield)

A. M&A is En Fuego

PwC released an analysis of M&A activity. In summary:

The number of deals north of $5 billion is on pace to double last year’s total, and to date has driven overall deal value up by more than 50%, according to a PwC analysis of Thomson Reuters data. Deals are also getting bigger, with more announced deals of at least $30 billion so far in 2018 than in all of 2017.

Since the start of 2018, one-third of megadeals crossed sector lines, driven largely by an appetite for new technologies. That interest in tech hasn’t been limited to huge transactions, with examples of smaller deals coming in retail, media and printing.

Companies are looking to broaden their customer base....

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What to Make of the Credit Cycle. Part 7.

TCW Group recently released its Loan Review through April ‘18 and it is telling. Per the commentary:

CLOs represent nearly 50% of the buyer base for loans and April was a huge month for CLOs to be priced, reset and refinanced. There were 28 new issues and 32 resets and repricings, which set a monthly record for the market. Many CLOs require being reset on the coupon date, which led to April being an extraordinarily high month of issuance.

As of April, the CLO markets have printed $43 billion year-to-date, a 58% increase YOY. And per LCDNews, the markets have printed an additional $10+ billion in May.

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WeWork’s Unintentional Comedy

Short “State of Consciousness” Companies

Back in “WeWork Invents a New Valuation Methodology,” we snarked about how WeWork pioneered an entirely new valuation technique. We noted,

"Indeed, to assess WeWork by conventional metrics is to miss the point, according to Mr. Neumann. WeWork isn’t really a real estate company. It’s a state of consciousness, he argues, a generation of interconnected emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs. And Mr. Neumann, with his combination of inspiration of chutzpah, wants to transform not just the way we work and live, but the very world we live in.”

A state of consciousness. A state of effing consciousness. Being a biglaw associate is also a state of consciousness but that doesn’t necessarily mind-port you to partner after 8 years, let alone 12.

We continued,

"Even Adam Neumann, a co-founder of WeWork and its CEO, admits that his company is overvalued, if you’re looking merely at desks leased or rents collected. ‘No one is investing in a co-working company worth $20 billion. That doesn’t exist.’ he told Forbes in 2017. ‘Our valuation and size today are much more based on our energy and spirituality than it is on a multiple of revenue.'“

We’re sure bankers all across the world will be happy to add “energy and spirituality analysis” to the lineup of valuation methodologies like precedent transaction, comparable company and discounted cash flow analyses. What the bloody hell.

Then last Wednesday, in 💵WeWork Taps Cap Markets; People Lose Minds 💵, we briefly covered the proposed WeWork’s proposed $500 million high yield bond issuance. People went nuts because the offering memorandum finally shed some more light on the business. And it was a feeding frenzy. Little did we know, that was only Part II of this (unintentional) comedy.

Introducing “Community-adjusted EBITDA.” Per Barron’s:

As The Wall Street Journal reported, while revenue doubled last year, to $866 million, WeWork’s losses also doubled, to $933 million. But WeWork “earned $233 million, based on a metric the company dubbed “community adjusted Ebitda.” That consists of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization — a widely used measure of operating cash flow — but also excludes basic operating expenses, such as marketing, general and administrative, development, and design costs. That’s not in any accounting textbooks I’m aware of.

Per The Wall Street Journal,

“I’ve never seen the phrase ‘community adjusted Ebitda’ in my life,” said Adam Cohen, founder of Covenant Review, a bond research company.

There’s a first time for everything, homie. Or as Bloomberg’s Matt Levine put it,

Well, sure, Mr. Covenant Review, but I bet you’ve never reviewed the covenants of a state of consciousness either. 

Some more choice commentary:

Indeed, Moody’s was mildly schizophrenic (registration required) in its evaluation of the company’s new notes; it didn’t deign to even discuss WeWork’s accounting gymnastics as it assigned a B3 Corporate Family rating and a Caa1 rating to the notes.

Dealbreaker’s Thornton McEnery was far less measured. In lofty prose worthy of a Pulitzer, he led his piece entitled “WeWork’s First-Ever Bond Offering Is A Master Class in Financial Masturbation” with “[n]o company has its head farther up its own ass than WeWork.” We literally laughed out loud at that. But wait. There’s more,

That said, making up your own holistic, artisan, New Age Brooklyn accounting principle just to pretend that you’re hemorrhaging less money than you really are? Well, that’s actually super-ballsy and we’d almost respect it if WeWork wasn’t trying to write down Kombucha on tap and losses associated with ping pong ball replacements. It’s the height of Millennial hipster exceptionalism and it would truly make our skin crawl if, again, we didn’t respect the balls-out ego involved here.

Can you even say “balls-out” anymore? We thought #MeToo killed that. And ping pong? C’mon. That’s so 2014. It’s esporting Fortnite matches that are all the rage now, broheim. Anyways…

Then Bloomberg’s Matt Levine and AxiosDan Primack crashed the party by issuing a bit of defense. Levine’s is here — noting that the calculus is a bit different for bond investors. Primack spoiled some of the fun by clarifying what the new-fangled metric represents:

The metric includes all tenant fees, rent expense, staffing expense, facilities management expense, etc. for active WeWork buildings.

The exclusions are company-wide expenditures, which do not get pro rated. Much of that relates to growth efforts, although not all of it (executive salaries, for example).

One comp, and its not perfect, could be how Shake Shack reports "shack-level operating profit margins."

Bottom line: It's still kind of silly, but less silly than it at first appears. And obviously the ratings agencies and bond markets didn't seem put off.

Silly? Less silly? Whatevs.

Either way, the Twitterati largely neglected to take into account today’s dominant theme-among-themes: yield, baby, yield. Or said another way — per The Financial Times,

WeWork does have substantial backing, blue-chip customers and a good plan to increase profit-sharing leases. A high yield in its first bond, adding 150 basis points or so to the index average yield, would help, too. That could swell the offer above $500m. Even sober bond investors may not prove immune to the appeal of succulents and exposed brick.

Prescient. And bond investors did not prove immune. Nor sober.

Welcome to Part III. This is the part in the story where the record scratches, the jukebox stops, and everyone has an utterly perplexed look on their faces. Like, wait. WHAT? That’s right. Demand for this paper was so high, that it upsized from $500 million to $702 million. And just like that, poof! Adam Neumann looks into the camera, smirks, and then walks down the street like Kaiser-m*therf*ckin-Soze. He can tap the venture capital markets — stateside and abroad (in the case of Softbank) — and the debt market.

The Real Deal somewhat inexplicably stated,

WeWork sold $700 million in bonds Wednesday to investors wary of another startup with unstable cash flow entering the debt market.

Wary? How do you explain the upsized offering then? The only thing people should be wary of are other people who are shocked to see this happening. Again: YIELD. BABY. YIELD. And, to be clear, it was actually $702 million (at 7.785%). The notes are guaranteed by US subsidiaries that hold approximately 60% of the company’s assets at year end; “adjusted ebitda” was also used as the base for leverage requirements under the notes’ covenants. There’s hair all over this thing. The Financial Times took a deeper dive into lender protections as it…

wanted to get a general idea of the rights its bondholders might have if the bonds were sold under the terms laid out in the preliminary prospectus and then Millennials everywhere suddenly decided they would prefer to work from home.

Right, exactly. Or in a cafe where you can sit for hours for $3/day. Anyway, you can read that FT analysis here. Moreover, BloombergGadfly cautions about the rent duration mismatch here — a subject of particular note for restructuring professionals well-versed in section 365 of the bankruptcy code. Bloomberg notes,

WeWork acknowledges that its expenditures "will make it difficult for us to achieve profitability, and we cannot predict whether we will achieve profitability in the near term or at all." Risk is all part of the game for junk investors, and this one looks like it will be priced to go with a fat yield. But the more prudent will take that caveat seriously. 

Investors must’ve REALLY wanted in on the action. Many didn’t take that caveat seriously. Something tells us Burton Malkiel will be adding an addendum to his “Greater Fool Theory” coverage in “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” and this will be the case study.

What explains the enthusiasm? As The Wall Street Journal notes, this isn’t a $20 billion decacorn-x2 for nothing:

The numbers offer some positive signs for WeWork. Its net construction costs per desk fell 22% in 2017 to $5,631. And its corporate business—as opposed to revenue from freelance and small companies—appears to be growing well, as rating agency Standard & Poor’s said in its analysis. The agency said it expects large corporations will occupy 50% of WeWork’s desks within two years, up from 25% today.

But then they flip right around and note,

There also are concerns for investors in WeWork’s growth trajectory. Its revenue per user fell 6.2% to $6,928 in 2017, while sales-and-marketing costs more than tripled to $139 million, representing 16% of revenue, up from 9.9% in 2016.

Taking on debt adds risk to a company whose business model hasn’t been tested in a downturn. Given that its members typically sign monthly or annual leases, a drop in demand during a recession would mean the rents it charges tenants would fall, while the payments it owes to landlords would stay constant.

Nevertheless, the market spoke. It gobbled up those bonds.

But then, in Part IV, the market spoke again, mere days later. As Bloomberg noted,

WeWork Cos.’s bonds extended their losses on Tuesday, as investors who were at first enthused to get a piece of the action have since been cashing in their chips.

The $702 million of speculative-grade bonds, which sold last week at par, fell for the fourth straight day on Tuesday to 95.75 cents on the dollar, according to Trace bond-price data. That’s a sharp contrast to the outsized orders the company saw when it marketed its debt in primary markets last week.

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And then they kept falling.

 Source: Bloomberg

Source: Bloomberg

Per Trace, the bonds last printed on Friday, May 4 at 94.9 — a pretty impressive decline on the week (h/t @donutshorts).

This sequence of events likely has bondholders screaming, “Yield, baby. YIELD!!!”

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PETITION is twice-weekly newsletter covering disruption from the vantage point of the disrupted. We meander sometimes to other areas. This piece was in today's Members'-only newsletter. You can check us out here and follow us on Twitter here.

What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 5)

Moelis & Company Pounds Chest

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In "What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 4)," we wrote:

The point is: some opportunistic folk sure seem to think that there’s another cycle coming. And they’re putting their money where their mouth is, thinking that there will be money to be made in the (seemingly saturated) case administration business. Time will tell.

In the meantime, those who can leverage robust M&A activity will. But let’s take a step back…

Do you remember THAT scene in the “Wolf of Wall Street?” The one where Leo and Matty-C pound their chests in the most bro-ey of bro-ey banker moments…? We’re pretty sure this is what the bankers over at Moelis & Company ($MO) were doing before, after and as they were announcing earnings on Monday.

Take this quote for instance:

Analyst: “Ken, I still get plenty of investors that mispronounce the name of your firm, so I guess we’re still working on it.”

Ken Moelis: “There is no mispronunciation, there’s only a wrong phone number. If they get the phone number right….”

Kind of hard to argue with that. Who gives a crap how your name is pronounced if the phone is ringing, the rates are increasing and the dollars are coming in? Marlo Stanfield’s “My name is my name” proclamation in the final season of The Wire clearly doesn’t apply to Ken Moelis. Have to admire that.

So, right after we gave Evercore ($EVR)(which reports earnings today) and PJT Partners($PJT) props in our Q1 review of bankers (to be fair: covering company-side only), Moelisdropped these numbers:

We achieved $219 million of revenues in the first quarter, up 27% over the prior year. This represented our highest quarter of revenues on record. Our performance compares favorably to the overall M&A market in which the number of global M&A completions greater than $100 million declined 14% during the same period. Our growth was primarily attributable to very strong M&A activity in the quarter. We're participating across industries and deal sizes, and we are also earning higher average fees per transaction. In addition, restructuring activity continue to be a solid contributor.

The fee part of this is interesting. Achieving pricing power in this environment is a big accomplishment. Query whether that relates more to M&A and less so to restructuring given the relative dearth of bankruptcy deal flow. Regardless, here’s what the stock did on Tuesday, a day the S&P 500 otherwise declined 1.34% and the Dow was down 424 points:

 Source: Yahoo! Finance

Source: Yahoo! Finance

When asked about restructuring, specifically, this is what Mr. Moelis had to say:

Well, never expect things to only get better, but it's been - look, it's been a low default environment for a long time. And I think some of the peers and competitors have kind of - who were edging into restructuring might have edged out a bit; we're not. We think we have the leading restructuring group on the Street. They've been together for years and years and years, and now the way we integrate them, the amount of spread we can get using the 120 on these to really make sure that they are talking to companies that are having issues. And those issues could be opportunities, too. It's almost - it crosses over with liability management. It might stay to be a 1% or 2% default rate for a while []. You can never tell. But there's a large amount of paper out there. So even at 1% or 2%, you can stay busy if you have a market-leading restructuring group which we do. Look, it could get worse. I guess nobody could default, but I think between 1% and 0% defaults and 1% and 5% defaults, I would doubt we hit 5% before we hit 0%. So, I'm happy we held the team together, we've added to it, we've integrated it, it continues to be a solid part of our business, and I think it has a lot more upside than downside.

Ok, so this must be a misstatement. He must have meant that he doubts that we reach 0% rather than 5%. And so: A. Lot. More. Upside. In late 2019? Early 2020? Who has edged out? Will others between now and then? The analysts didn’t ask those questions.

What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 4)

We’ve spent a considerable amount of space discussing what to make of the credit cycle. Our intent is to give professionals a well-rounded view of what to expect now that we’re in year 8/9 of a bull market. You can read Parts one (Members’ only), two, and three (Members’ only), respectively.

Interestingly, certain investors have become impatient and apparently thrown in the towel. Is late 2019 or early 2020 too far afield to continue pretending to deploy a distressed investing strategy? Or are LPs anxious and pulling funds from underperforming or underinvested hedge funds? Is the opportunity set too small - crap retail and specialized oil and gas - for players to be active? Are asset values too high? Are high yield bonds priced too high? All valid questions (feel free to write in and let us know what we’re missing: petition@petition11.com).

In any event, The Wall Street Journal highlights:

A number of distressed-debt hedge funds are abandoning traditional loan-to-own strategies after years of low interest rates resulted in meager returns for investors. Some are even investing in equities.

PETITION Note: funny, last we checked an index fund doesn’t charge 2 and 20.

The WSJ continues,

BlueMountain Capital Management LLC and Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP are some of the bigger funds that have shifted away from this niche-investing strategy. And lots of smaller funds have closed shop.

A number of smaller distressed-debt investors have closed down, including Panning Capital Management, Reef Road Capital and Hutchin Hill Capital.

PETITION Note: the WSJ failed to include TCW Group’s distressed asset fund. What? Too soon?

We should note, however, that there are several other platforms that are raising (or have raised) money for new distressed and/or special situations, e.g., GSO and Knighthead Capital Management.

Still is the WSJ-reported capitulation a leading indicator of increased distressed activity to come? Owl Creek Asset Management LP seems to think so. The WSJ writes,

Owl Creek founder Jeffrey Altman, however, believes that if funds are shutting down and moving away from classic loan-to-own strategies then a big wave of restructuring is around the corner. “If anything, value players leaving credit makes me feel more confident that the extended run-up credit markets have been enjoying may finally be ending,” Mr. Altman said.

One’s loss is another’s opportunity.

*****

Speaking of leading indicators(?) and opportunity, clearly there are some entrepreneurial (or masochistic?) investors who are prepping for increased distressed activity. In December, The Carlyle Group ($CG), via its Carlyle Strategic Partners IV L.P. fund, announced a strategic investment in Prime Clerk LLC, a claims and noticing administrator based in New York (more on Prime Clerk below). Terms were not disclosed — though sources tell us that the terms were rich. Paul Weiss Rifkind & Wharton LLP served as legal counsel and Centerview Partners as the investment banker on the transaction.

On April 19th, Omni Management Group announced that existing management had teamed up with Marc Beillinson and affiliates of the Beilinson Advisory Group (Mark Murphy and Rick Kapko) to purchase Omni Management Group from Rust Consulting. Terms were not disclosed here either. We can’t imagine the terms here were as robust as those above given the market share differential.

The point is: some opportunistic folk sure seem to think that there’s another cycle coming. And they’re putting their money where their mouth is, thinking that there will be money to be made in the (seemingly saturated) case administration business. Time will tell.

The Latest and Greatest on Guitar Center (Part 2)

Long Electronic Dance Music's Musical Awakening?

In “The Latest and Greatest on Guitar Center,” we cast some shade on the guitar retailer’s amend-and-extend transaction. We wrote,

On Monday, Guitar Center — with the help of bankers UBS and Houlihan Lokey and the consent of Ares — launched an exchange offer and consent solicitation related to its unsecured notes. The offer is to swap the existing $325 million 9.625% notes for $325 million of 5% cash/8% PIK notes due 2022 (along with with some warrants). Per the company’s press release, $299 million worth of holders have already agreed (92% of the issuance). This swap would save the company $13,812,500 a year in interest expense AND have the effect of pushing out the maturity for three years. Gotta love the capital markets these days.

In tandem, the company is proposing to offer $635 million of new 9.5% senior secured notes due 2021. The use of proceeds of these new notes would be to redeem the $615 million 6.5% senior secured notes due 2019. With this piece of the transaction, the company will be taking on an additional $20.35 million of annual interest expense.

Finally, the company will also refinance the $375 million ABL, extending the maturity out by 5 years.

So, if you made it this far, here’s the upshot: if these transactions are successful, the company will have availed itself of a few years to turn itself around by pushing out its debt maturities. But, it will have eliminated ZERO INTEREST EXPENSE in the aggregate. Said another way: this is a band-aid, not a solution.

All of which means that the company needs to hope and pray some rock God hits the scene and reinvigorates the market for guitars in the next two years. We’ll take the under.

As it turns out, the company ultimately downsized the amount of 5% cash/8% PIK notes due 2022 from $325 million to $318 million which will, naturally, have the affect of...to read this rest of this a$$-kicking commentary, you must be a Member...

What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 2)

In Sunday’s “What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 1),” we noted various takes on the credit cycle by Moody’s, Fitch, Guggenheim Partners and Frank K. Martin. In his letter to shareholders, JPMorgan ($JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon chimes in and offers a similar conclusion to that of Guggenheim Partners’ Scott Minerd. That is: there’s a good chance that interest rates will go up faster than expected. And that will have ramifications. Here’s what he had to say,

“Since QE has never been done on this scale and we don’t completely know the myriad effects it has had on asset prices, confidence, capital expenditures and other factors, we cannot possibly know all of the effects of its reversal. We have to deal with the possibility that at one point, the Federal Reserve and other central banks may have to take more drastic action than they currently anticipate – reacting to the markets, not guiding the markets. A simple scenario under which this could happen is if inflation and wages grow more than people expect. I believe that many people underestimate the possibility of higher inflation and wages, which means they might be underestimating the chance that the Federal Reserve may have to raise rates faster than we all think.”

He continues,

“If growth in America is accelerating, which it seems to be, and any remaining slack in the labor markets is disappearing – and wages start going up, as do commodity prices – then it is not an unreasonable possibility that inflation could go higher than people might expect. As a result, the Federal Reserve will also need to raise rates faster and higher than people might expect. In this case, markets will get more volatile as all asset prices adjust to a new and maybe not-so-positive environment.”

There’s a whole industry of restructuring professionals…gulp…hoping that he’s correct. There are a number of funds raising cash right now hoping that he’s correct.

*****

Still, it’s a question of how much how fast. Wells Fargo ($WFC) yesterday indicated that a 300 bps increase in LIBOR would not immediately pressure most issuer’s capital structures. Also:

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So. Yeah.

What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 1)

Moody's, Fitch & Guggenheim Partners Chime In

Earlier this week, Moody’s Default and Ratings Analytics team forecasted that the US’ trailing 12-month high-yield default rate will sink to 2% — from its February 2018 3.6% level — by February 2019. That is not a good sign for restructuring professionals itching for an uptick in activity.

FitchRatings chimed in as well, noting that underwriting standards underscore that the leveraged debt market is in the later stages of the credit cycle. But, it added,

“Aggressive documentation terms now prevalent could challenge recoveries in the next downturn. However, a surge in refinancing activity since 2016 should increase time between the credit cycle's bottom and peak in default rates. Looser documentation, such as the prevalence of covenant-lite (cov-lite) loans, should also lower the risk of technical default while enabling issuers to access additional funding via secured debt and unrestricted subsidiary provisions.” (emphasis ours)

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