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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🎆Lehman = Anniversary Fever🎆

Initiate the Deluge of Lehman Retrospectives (Short History)

The onslaught of “10 years ago” retrospectives about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the “Great Recession,” and lessons learned (and not learned, as the case may be), has officially begun. Brace yourselves.

Bloomberg’s Matt Levine writes:

Next weekend marks 10 years since the day that Lehman Brothers Inc. filed for bankruptcy. I suppose you could argue for other dates being the pivotal moment of the global financial crisis, but I think most people sensibly take Lehman Day as the anniversary of the crisis. Certainly I have a vivid memory of where I was on Sept. 15, 2008 (on vacation, in Napa, very confused about why no one around me was freaking out), which is not true of, say, Bear Stearns Hedge Funds Day. So expect a lot of crisis commemoration in the next week or two.

Fair point about Bear Stearns. As we’ll note in a moment, that isn’t the only pivotal moment that is getting lost in the Lehman Brothers focus.

Anyway, Levine pokes fun at a Wall Street Journal piece entitled, “Lehman’s Last Hires Look Back.” It is worth a read if you haven’t already. The upshot: all four of the folks who started at Lehman on or around the day it went bankrupt ended up landing on their feet. In fact, it doesn’t sound like any of them really suffered much of a gap of employment, if any at all.

Levine continues:

I mean he stayed there for two and a half years and left, not because he was working for a bank that had imploded and couldn’t pay him anymore, but because he got “super jaded.” Another one “was fortunate that my position was maintained at Neuberger Berman [an investment-management firm then owned by Lehman], and I spent eight years there” — and now works for Dick Fuld at his new firm. It is all a bit eerie to read. Of course Lehman’s bankruptcy led, fairly rapidly, to many job losses in the financial industry, and particularly — of course — at Lehman.  But there is a lot of populist anger to the effect that investment bankers brought down the global economy and escaped relatively unscathed, and that anger will not be much assuaged by learning that these young bankers — who, to be fair, had nothing to do with bringing down the economy! — kept their jobs for years after Lehman’s bankruptcy and left only when they felt super jaded.

He’s got a point.

It’s not as if this is a happy anniversary and so there are a number of folks who are doubling-down on the doom and gloom. McKinsey, for instance, notes that global debt continues to grow and households have reduced debt but are still over-levered. They also note, as we’ve written previously, that (i) corporate debt serves as a large overhang (e.g., developing country debt denominated in foreign currencies, growth in junk bonds, the rise in “investment grade” BBB bonds, the resurgence of CLOs), (ii) real-estate prices are out of control and creating housing shortages, (iii) China’s growth trajectory is becoming murkier in the face of significant debt, and (iv) nobody fully knows the extent to which high-frequency trading can affect markets in a panic. They don’t even mention the possible effects of Central Banks’ tightening and unwinding QE (Jamie Dimon must be shaking his head somewhere). Nevertheless, they conclude:

The good news is that most of the world’s pockets of debt are unlikely to pose systemic risk. If any one of these potential bubbles burst, it would cause pain for a set of investors and lenders, but none seems poised to produce a 2008-style meltdown. The likelihood of contagion has been greatly reduced by the fact that the market for complex securitizations, credit-default swaps, and the like has largely evaporated (although the growth of the collateralized-loan-obligation market is an exception to this trend).

But one thing we know from history is that the next crisis will not look like the last one. If 2008 taught us anything, it’s the importance of being vigilant when times are still good.

Arturo Cifuentes writes in The Financial Times that, unfortunately, ratings agencies, insurance companies and investment executives got off relatively unscathed (in the case of the former, some fines notwithstanding). The Economist notes that housing issues, offshore dollar finance, and the post-Great Recession rise in populism (which prevents a solution to the euro’s structural problems) continue to linger. Ben BernankeTimothy Geithner and Henry Paulson Jr. worry that Congress has de-regulated too much too soon.

Others argue that the crisis made us too afraid of risk, at least initially — particularly at the individual level. And that this is why the recovery has been so slow and, in turn, populism has been on the rise. Indeed, some note that the response to the crisis is why “the system is breaking now.” And still others highlight how the return of covenant-lite is Exhibit A to the argument that memories are short and any lessons went flying right out the window. Castles in the air theory reigns supreme.

Anyway, The Wall Street Journal has a full section devoted to “The Financial Crisis: 10 Years Later” so you can drown yourself in history all you want. This Financial Times pieceresonated with us: we remember embarking on the same prophylactic personal financial protections at the time. And how eerie it was.

But what haven’t we seen much of? We would love to see “A Man in the High Castle”-like coverage of what would have happened had AIG not been bailed out and been allowed to fail. The bailout of AIG has largely been relegated to a footnote in the history of the financial crisis — much like, as Levine implied, the failure of Bear Stearns. Make no mistake, it’s undoubtedly better off that way. But remember: the AIG bailout occurred one day afterLehman Brothers bankruptcy filing. It, therefore, didn’t take long for the FED to conclude amidst the carnage of Lehman’s failure that an AIG failure would do ever-more unthinkable Purge-like damage to the international financial system. In fact, many believed at the time that, through its relationships with all of the big banks and the extensive exposure it had to credit default swaps, that AIG was more strongly correlated to the international system (and hence more dangerous) than even Lehman.

After seeing what was happening once Lehman went bankrupt, this was simply a risk that the FED wasn’t willing to take. What if they were willing? Where would the world economy look like now? It’s interesting to think about.

One last note on AIG: Lehman had 25,000 employees. AIG is currently twice that. Even from the perspective of headcount, it was literally too big to fail.

💣Diebold. Disrupted.💣

Are Point-of-Sale & Self-Checkout Systems Effed (Short Diebold Nixdorf)?

Forgive us for returning to recently trodden ground. Since we wrote about Diebold Nixdorf Inc. ($DBD) in “💥Millennials & Post-Millennials are Killing ATMs💥,” there has been a flurry of activity around the name. The company…

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🍟Casual Dining is a Hot Mess. Part IV 🍟

Short Kona Grill ($KONA)

We’ve been all over the casual dining space so much that it’s time to just make this a recurring series. We’ve previously discussed casual dining here (Macro trends, Kona GrillP.F. Ghang China Bistro Inc.Ruby Tuesday and Bertucci’s), here (Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar) and here (Luby’s Inc. and Steak ‘n Shake).

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The Rise of Net-Debt Short Activism (Short Low Default Rates)

Aurelius Goes After Windstream Holdings Inc. 

🤓Another nerd alert: this is about to get technical.🤓

With default rates low, asset prices high, and a system awash with heaps of green, investors are under pressure by LPs and looking for ways to generate returns. They’ll manufacture them if needs be. These forces help explain the recent Hovnanian drama, the recent McClatchey drama and, well, basically anything involving credit default swaps (“CDS”) nowadays. To point, the fine lawyers at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz (“WLRZ”) write:

The market for corporate debt does not immediately lend itself to the same kind of “activism” found in equity markets.  Bondholders, unlike shareholders, do not elect a company’s board or vote on major transactions.  Rather, their relationship with their borrower is governed primarily by contract.  Investors typically buy corporate debt in the hope that, without any action on their part, the company will meet its obligations, including payment in full at maturity.

In recent years, however, we have seen the rise of a new type of debt investor that defies this traditional model.

Right. We sure have. Boredom sure is powerful inspiration. Anyway, WLRZ dubs these investors the “net-short debt activist” investor.

The net-short debt activist investor has a particular modus operandi. First, the investor sniffs around the credit markets trolling for transactions that arguably run afoul of debt document covenants (we pity whomever has this job). Once the investor identifies a potential covenant violation, it scoops up the debt (the “long” position”) while contemporaneously putting on a short position by way of CDS (which collects upon a default). The key, however, is that the latter is a larger position than the former, making the investor “net short.” Relying on its earlier diligence, the investor then publicly declares a covenant default and, if it holds a large enough position (25%+ of the issuance), can serve a formal default notice to boot. The public nature of all of this is critical: the investor knows that the default and/or notice will move markets. And that’s the point: after all, the investor is net short.

In the case of a formal notice, all of this also puts the target in an unenviable position. It now needs to go to court to obtain a ruling that no default has occurred. Absent that, the company is in a world of hurt. WLRK writes:

Unless and until that ruling is obtained, the company faces the risk not only that the activist will be able to accelerate the debt it holds, but also that other financial debt will be subject to cross defaults and that other counterparties of the company — such as other lenders, trade creditors, or potential strategic partners — may hesitate to conduct business with the company until the cloud is lifted.  

Savage. Coercive. Vicious. Long low default rate environments!

In the case of Little Rock Arkansas-based Windstream Holdings Inc. ($WIN), a provider of voice and data network communications services, all of this is especially relevant.

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💰Goldman Sachs Has its Cake and Eats it Too💰

Short GNC Holdings Inc. Long Care/of. 

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We’ve written extensively hereherehere and here about GNC Holdings Inc. ($GNC) and the challenges that the company faces. We won’t revisit all of that here other than to note that GNC was, upon information and belief, preparing for a bankruptcy filing prior to it amending and extending its term loan, entering into a new ABL, and obtaining $275mm of asset-backed FILO term loans. We quipped that this was the quintessential “kick-the-can-down-the-road” transaction. Goldman Sachs ($GS) advised the company on the entire capital structure fix. Suffice it to say, then, that Goldman Sachs is intimately familiar with the GNC business.

Which, naturally, makes the fact that Goldman Sachs Investment Partners (a division of Goldman Sachs Asset Management) served as the lead investor in vitamin startup Care/of’s Series B financing all the more interesting.

Now, of course, we know Goldman is a big shop. They’re probably talking to WeWorkabout how to design their spaces to balance the sheer volume of “Chinese walls” with the need for an aesthetic that appeals to the millennial mindset. And, surely, Goldman Sachs’ capital advisory arm is entirely different and separate from Goldman’s asset management and venture arm.

But still.

Earlier this week Care/of, a direct-to-consumer wellness brand that specializes in monthly subscriptions of personalized vitamins and supplements, announced the new round of $29mm. In addition to Goldman, investors included Goodwater Capital, Juxtapose, RRE Ventures and Tusk Ventures. Former President of GNC, Beth Kaplan, also invested and will be joining the Board. 🤔

Bloomberg notes:

Care/of, a startup selling vitamins and herbal supplements online, raised funds from investors including Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s venture arm that value the company at $156 million, within striking distance of publicly traded retail chains that are among the industry’s leaders.

The startup’s $156 million valuation isn’t far from Vitamin Shoppe Inc., with 3,860 employees and a market capitalization of about $203.5 million, or GNC Holdings Inc., which has a market value of $254.2 million with 6,400 employees. Care/of has about 100 workers, Chief Executive Officer Craig Elbert said.

“Consumers are increasingly shifting spend online and so I think large retail footprints have the potential to be a liability,” Elbert said in an interview. “There’s a lot of growth ahead of us and lot of reasons why this should be an e-commerce business.”

This is so Goldman-y. Collect an advisory fee to extend the life of the dominant brick-and-mortar retailer with one hand while investing in a nimble direct-to-consumer upstart that will chip away on that very same retailer on the other hand. Even before the former requires capital markets advice from a Goldman-type in a few years — which, it undoubtedly will — it may be on the lookout for an M&A banker. Perhaps to sell itself. Perhaps to buy a start-up and build a moat against Amazon. How convenient that Goldman will have familiarity with both businesses. We’d say that maybe there’d be a conflict somewhere in there but, well…do those really even exist anymore??

⚡️Is PG&E in Trouble?⚡️

PG&E Reported Earnings (Long Climate Change)

Long time PETITION readers know that our general theme is “disruption, from the vantage point of the disrupted.” Disruption can come in various forms. In many cases it comes from technological innovation. The dreaded “Amazon Effect” that everyone is so tired of hearing about falls into this category. But as we’ve said time and time again, mobile e-commerce is a big part of that story and that would never have been made possible — and perhaps brick-and-mortar would still be intact — if it weren’t for the Apple Iphone ($AAPL), for Shopify ($SHOP), and for Instagram ($FB), among many other disrupters. Today’s innovations are leading indicators for tomorrow’s bankruptcies.

Disruption — and, no, we don’t always use this term in the Clayton Christensen sense — can come in other forms. There can be regulatory and/or legislative disruption, political disruption, environmental disruption, etc. In the case of PG&E — short for Pacific Gas and Electric Company — it may be all of the above.

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Home Security is a Tough Business

Short Ascent Capital Group

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Tough is one word for it.

Saturated is another.

There are countless players in the home security and monitoring space including (i) recently-IPO’d ADT Inc. (owned by Apollo Asset Management),* (ii) Vivint Inc., (iii) Guardian Protection Services, (iv) Vector Security Inc., (v) Comcast Corporation, and (vi) SimpliSafe Inc. And there is also the identity-confused schizophrenic Monitronics International Inc., formerly known as MONI Smart Security and now known as Brinks Home Security, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of publicly-traded holding company Ascent Capital Group ($ASCMA)(did you get all of that?). Nearly all of these companies compete in the market for “alarm monitoring agreements” (AMAs) — contracts pursuant to which these companies provide home monitoring services in exchange for predictable recurring revenue. Predictable in a manner of speaking: with this much competition, the industry is getting a wee bit…less…predictable…?

Ascent Capital Group noted in its most recent 10-K:

Competition in the security alarm industry is based primarily on reputation for quality of service, market visibility, services offered, price and the ability to identify and obtain customer accounts. Competition for customers has also increased in recent years with the emergence of DIY home security providers and other technology companies expanding into the security alarm industry. We believe we compete effectively with other national, regional and local alarm monitoring companies, including cable and telecommunications companies, due to our reputation for reliable monitoring, customer and technical services, the quality of our services, and our relatively lower cost structure. We believe the dynamics of the security alarm industry favor larger alarm monitoring companies, such as MONI, with a nationwide focus that have greater resources and benefit from economies of scale in technology, advertising and other expenditures. (emphasis added).

Make no mistake: ASCMA is purposefully highlighting its monitoring expertise, size and scale. And that is because the market for AMAs is getting increasingly challenged by a number of home security providers. And many of them are of the do-it-yourself (“DIY”) variety. For instance, home owners can get home security devices from Arlo by Netgear.** Or Canary. Or Honeywell ($HON). Or Google (Nest)($GOOG). Amazon Inc. ($AMZN) recently bought Ring Doorbell for $1 billion and that, too, has a home security system. Gadget stores are replete with options for DIY home security systems. Do people even need professional installation and/or monitoring anymore? With property crimes on a nationwide decline, is a self-monitoring system viable enough? Why bother when you can just get alerts to the phone in your pocket or the watch on your wrist? These are the big questions.

Especially for Monitronics.

Monitronics primarily sells its home security and monitoring services through a network of authorized dealers. While it also deploys certain direct-to-consumer initiatives under its DIY-focused subsidiary, LiveWatch Security LLC, the company’s real action is from the recurring fees baked into AMAs. Unfortunately:

In recent years, MONI's acquisition of new customer accounts through its dealer sales channel has declined due to the attrition of large dealers, efforts to acquire new accounts from dealers at lower purchase prices, consumer buying behaviors, including trends of buying security products through online sources and increased competition from telecommunications and cable companies in the market. MONI is increasingly reliant on its internal sales channel and strategic relationships with third parties, such as Nest, to counter-balance this declining account generation through its dealer sales channel. If MONI is unable to generate sufficient accounts through its internal sales channel and strategic relationships to replace declining new accounts through dealers, MONI's business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. (emphasis added)

Was that a borderline “Amazon Effect” reference mixed in there? 🤔 Wait. There’s more:

As of December 31, 2017, MONI was one of the largest alarm monitoring companies in the U.S. when measured by the total number of subscribers under contract. MONI faces competition from other alarm monitoring companies, including companies that have more capital and that may offer higher prices and more favorable terms to dealers for alarm monitoring contracts or charge lower prices to customers for monitoring services. MONI also faces competition from a significant number of small regional competitors that concentrate their capital and other resources in targeting local markets and forming new marketing channels that may displace the existing alarm system dealer channels for acquiring alarm monitoring contracts. Further, MONI is facing increasing competition from telecommunications, cable and technology companies who are expanding into alarm monitoring services and bundling their existing offerings with monitored security services. The existing access to and relationship with subscribers that these companies have could give them a substantial advantage over MONI, especially if they are able to offer subscribers a lower price by bundling these services. Any of these forms of competition could reduce the acquisition opportunities available to MONI, thus slowing its rate of growth, or requiring it to increase the price paid for subscriber accounts, thus reducing its return on investment and negatively impacting its revenues and results of operations.

And here we thought people were shunning the cable companies?

Anyway, can Monitronics circumvent these issues with a superior product? By investing in new technology to ward off the onslaught of newcomers? More from the 10-K:

…the availability of any new features developed for use in MONI's industry (whether developed by MONI or otherwise) can have a significant impact on a subscriber’s initial decision to choose MONI's or its competitor’s products and a subscriber's decision to renew with MONI or switch to one of its competitors. To the extent its competitors have greater capital and other resources to dedicate to responding to technological innovation over time, the products and services offered by MONI may become less attractive to current or future subscribers thereby reducing demand for such products and services and increasing attrition over time. Those competitors that benefit from more capital being available to them may be at a particular advantage to MONI in this respect. If MONI is unable to adapt in response to changing technologies, market conditions or customer requirements in a timely manner, such inability could adversely affect its business by increasing its rate of subscriber attrition. MONI also faces potential competition from improvements in self-monitoring systems, which enable current or future subscribers to monitor their home environments without third-party involvement, which could further increase attrition rates over time and hinder the acquisition of new alarm monitoring contracts. (emphasis added)

Luckily this isn’t an issue because Monitronics currently has the best most technologically-advanced home security offering on the market. Oh. Hmmm. Wait. We spoke to soon…

Here is Wirecutter reviewing “The Best Home Security System.” And suffice it to say, the Monitronics’ product is not the winner. In fact, Wirecutter knocks the “Brinks Home Complete with Video” system on cost.

Here is PCmag reviewing “The Best Smart Home Security Systems of 2018” and the LiveWatch Plug & Protect IQ 2.0 is buried down the list with a 3.5 star rating (out of 5).

And here is Reviews.com’s list of “The Best DIY Home Security” and neither LiveWatch nor Brinks are listed. 😜

To offset all of these current challenges, the company luckily has unconstrained liquidity and a clean balance sheet to invest in marketing to dealers and upgrading its technology for the future. Oh. Hmmm. Wait. We spoke to soon. Again. 😜

Late last week, Moody’s Investors Service Inc. downgraded Monitronics International Inc.to Caa2 from B3; it also downgraded (i) the company’s $1.1 billion senior secured first-lien L+5.50% term loan due 2020 to Caa1 from B2 and (ii) its 9.125% $585 million senior unsecured notes to Caa3 from Caa2. To complete the capital structure picture, the company also has approximately $68.5 million outstanding on a $295 million L+4% credit facility “super priority” revolver due 2021. So, to make sure you grasp the magnitude here: 1 + 2 + 3 = $1.8 billion of debt. Yup, you read that right. There’s a lot of interest expense attached to that. Oh, and per ASCMA’s last 10-K:

The maturity date for both the term loan and the revolving credit facility under the Credit Facility are subject to a springing maturity 181 days prior to the scheduled maturity date of the Senior Notes. Accordingly, if MONI is unable to refinance the Senior Notes by October 3, 2019, both the term loan and the revolving credit facility would become due and payable.

Hmmm. 🤔 Siri, set an alarm for April 2019‼️💥

Moody’s noted:

The downgrade of Monitronics' CFR and facility ratings reflects strains on the company's liquidity and capital structure caused by impending maturities, as well as its continued lackluster operating performance.

The liquidity rating downgrade to SGL-4 reflects the approaching debt maturities. Moody's views Monitronics' liquidity as operationally adequate, but weak in terms of imminent, likely accelerating debt maturities. As a result of the company's continued lackluster performance, Moody's expects Monitronics to generate barely breakeven free cash flow this year. The (unrated) $295 million, super-priority revolving credit facility is large and has, as of early July 2018, a time of seasonally heavy revolver borrowing, roughly $80 million drawn. Reliance on the revolver also creates liquidity risk because the revolver expiration will spring to October 2019 if the notes are not refinanced. While cash on hand continues to be modest ($30 million at March 31st), Monitronics' parent company, Ascent Capital Group, Inc.("Ascent"), has nearly $110 million of cash, which may be viewed as providing additional implied support. Still, Monitronics' combined sources of liquidity are weak relative to the quantum of debt coming due in the next few years. Reliance on the revolver for operational initiatives and to fund purchases of new subscriber contracts from dealers will also prevent meaningful deleveraging over the next year. Weak operational metrics also continue to shrink the cushion it has relative to covenant limits, and the risk of a covenant violation over the next 12-15 months is elevated.

Ergo, the capital structure is rumored to be advisored up with (a) Houlihan Lokey and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan working with an ad hoc group of unsecured holders and (b) Jones Day and Evercore working with the term lenders. Latham & Watkins LLP reportedly represents the company. Anchorage Capital may be a bit of a wild card here as they allegedly hold a meaningful position in the term loan and the unsecured bonds.

All of this drama has taken its toll on ASCMA’s stock:

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This company is looking a bit insecure.

* ADT IPO’d earlier this year championing its revenue-generation. In its S-1 filing it noted, “In the nine months ended September 30, 2017 and the year ended December 31, 2016, we had total revenues of $3,210 million and $2,950 million, respectively, and net losses of $296 million and $537 million, respectively.” Um, okay. This looks like a textbook Apollo dump. And the market seems to be responding. Here is the range-bound stock performance post-IPO:

Hard to blame Apollo for getting out while the gettin’ is good.

** As we were researching and writing this piece, Arlo Technologies filed its S-1 for a planned $194mm IPO. The firm posted $6.6 million in income on $370.7 million in revenue for 2017.

As we said, “saturated.”

🍟Casual Dining Continues to = a Hot Mess🍟

Luby's & Steak N Shake Look Stressed (Short Soggy Mac N’ Cheese)

We’ve previously covered this topic in “🍟Casual Dining is a Hot Mess🍟” and “More Pain in Casual Dining (Short Soggy Mozzarella Sticks).” Recall that, back in April, Bertucci’s Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy and said the following in its First Day Declaration:

"With the rise in popularity of quick-casual restaurants and oversaturation of the restaurant industry as a whole, Bertucci’s – and the casual family dining sector in general – has been affected by a prolonged negative operating trend in an ever increasing competitive price environment. Consumers have more options than ever for spending discretionary income, and their preferences continue to shift towards cheaper, faster alternatives. Since 2011, Bertucci’s has experienced a year-over-year decline in sales and revenue."

Unfortunately for those in the space, those themes persist.

On Monday, Luby’s Inc. ($LUB) — the owner and operator of 160 restaurants (86 Luby’s Cafeteria, 67 Fuddruckers and 7 Cheeseburger in Paradise) reported Q3 earnings and they were totally on trend. While the company reported positive same-store sales at Luby’s Cafeteria — its largest brand — the company’s financial results nevertheless cratered on account of increased costs (in food, labor and operating expense) without a corresponding acceleration in sales (via either increased prices or guest traffic). The company’s overall same store sales decreased 0.9%, its total sales decreased 3.1%.

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The company noted:

“…the current competitive restaurant environment is making it difficult for our brand and the mature brands of many others to gain significant traction. We've been faced with the environment for quite some time, which has been a large drag on our financial results and our company valuation.

The challenge of rising costs, flattish-to-down sales, and a sustained debt balance are restricting the company's overall financial performance.”

Like many other chains, therefore, Luby’s is rationalizing its store count. The company previously committed to shedding at least 14 of its owned locations to the tune of an estimated $25mm in proceeds; it is accelerating its efforts in an attempt to generate an additional $20mm in proceeds. The use of proceeds is to pay down the company’s $44.2mm of debt. The company also announced that it hired Cowen ($COWN) to assist it with a potential restructuring of its Wells Fargo-agented ($WFC) credit facility. That hire was a requirement to a July 12-dated financial covenant default waiver (expiration August 10) provided by the company’s lenders.

This company does have one advantage over several distressed competitors: it owns a lot of its locations (in addition to its franchise business; a separate licensee operates an additional 36 Fuddruckers locations). The question therefore becomes whether the company’s lenders will provide the company with enough latitude (via continued waivers or otherwise) to sell enough locations to generate proceeds to pay down or “reduce [its] outstanding debt to near zero.” If patience wears thin or buyers balk at purchasing locations that later may become subject to a fraudulent conveyance attack, this may be yet another casual dining chain to find itself in bankruptcy. The stock, which has been range-bound for about a year, trades as follows:

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*****

Likewise, Steak ‘n Shake is also beginning to look stressed — at least as far as its senior secured term loan goes. The casual dining restaurant company has somewhere between 580 and 616 locations, approximately 2/3 of which are company-owned. According to Reorg Researchit also has a group of lenders who are agitating given (i) under-budget revenues, (ii) liquidity concerns, and (iii) lower loan trading levels. Per Reorg:

The lenders’ move to organize comes as Steak ‘n Shake has shifted its focus from company-owned locations to franchise opportunities in the face of declining revenue, same-store sales and customer traffic as well as increased costs. A wholly owned subsidiary of Biglari Holdings, Steak ‘n Shake is a casual restaurant chain primarily located primarily in the Midwest and South United States; the chain is known for its steak burgers and milkshakes. Biglari says that unlike company-operated locations, franchises have “continued to progress profitably.” “Franchising is a business that not only produces cash instead of consuming it, but concomitantly reduces operating risk,” the 2017 chairman’s letter says.

Even so, 415 of the total 616 Steak ‘n Shake locations are company-operated and creditors are pushing the company to bring in operational advisors, sources say. The company’s $220 million term loan due in 2019, which according to the Biglari 10-Q had $185.3 million outstanding as of March 31, has dipped to the 86/88 context, according to a trading desk. The term loan, which matures March 19, 2021, is secured by first-priority security interests in substantially all the assets of Steak ‘n Shake, although is not guaranteed by Biglari Holdings.

The company has been struggling for years. Per Restaurant Business:

Same-store sales fell 0.4% in 2016 and another 1.8% in 2017. Traffic last year fell 4.4%.

The decline in traffic wiped out the chain’s profits. Operating earnings per location declined from $83,300 in 2016 to just $1,000 in 2017.

Part of the issue may be the company’s geography-agnostic “consistent pricing strategy” which keeps prices static across the board — regardless of whether a location is in a higher cost region. This strategy has franchisees in an uproar which, obviously, could curtail efforts to switch from an owner-owned model to a franchisee model. Indeed, a franchisee is suing. Per Restaurant Business:

For franchisees that operate 173 of the 585 U.S. locations and have to pay for royalties on top of other costs, the traffic declines risk sending many locations into financial losses. In addition, rising minimum wages in many markets, along with competition for labor, could put further pressure on that profitability.

Steaks of Virginia, the franchisee that filed the lawsuit last week, claimed it was losing money at all nine of its locations.

Curious. Apparently the company’s reliance on higher traffic to generate profits didn’t come to fruition. Insert lawsuit here. Insert lender agitation here. Insert questionable business model shift here.

In a February shareholder letterBiglari Holdings Chairman Sardar Biglari channeled his inner-Adam Neumann (of WeWork), stating:

We do not just sell burgers and shakes; we also sell an experience.

And if by “experience” he means getting shotbeing on the receiving end of an armed robbery or getting beat up by an employee…well, sure, points for originality? 👍😬

Given all of the above and the perfect storm that has clouded the casual dining space (i.e., too many restaurants, the rise of food delivery and meal kit services, the popularity of prepared foods at grocers), lender activity at this early stage seems prudent.

#BustedIPO: Tintri Inc. Files for Bankruptcy

What is the statute of limitations for declaring an IPO busted?

We previously wrote about Tintri Inc. ($TNTR) here and, frankly, there isn’t much to add other than the fact that company has, indeed, filed for bankruptcy. The filing is predicated upon a proposed 363 sale of the company’s assets as a “going concern” or a liquidation of the company’s intellectual property in what should be a fairly short stint in bankruptcy court. Shareholders likely to be wiped out include New Enterprise Associates (yes, the same firm mentioned above in the Tamara Mellon bit), Insight Venture PartnersLightspeed Venture Partners and Silver Lake Kraftwerk.

Meanwhile, in the above-cited piece we also wrote:

Nothing like a $7 launch, a slight post-IPO uptick, and then a crash and burn. This should be a warning sign for anyone taking a look at Domo — another company that looks like it is exploring an IPO for liquidity to stay afloat.

This bit about Tintri''s financial position offers up an explanation for the bankruptcy filing -- in turn serving as a cautionary tale for investors in IPOs of companies that have massive burn rates:

"The company's revenue increased from $86 million in fiscal 2016 to $125.1 million in fiscal 2017, and to $125.9 million in fiscal 2018, representing year-over-year growth of 45% and 1 %, respectively. The company's net loss was $101.0 million, $105.8 million, and $157.7 million in fiscal 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively. Total assets decreased from $158.1 million as of the end of fiscal 2016 to $104.9 million as of the end of fiscal 2017, and to $76.2 million as of the end of fiscal 2018, representing year-over-year change of 34% and 27%, respectively. The company attributed flat revenue growth in fiscal 2018 in part due to delayed and reduced purchases of products as a result of customer concerns about Tintri's financial condition, as well as a shift in its product mix toward lower-priced products, offset somewhat by increased support and maintenance revenue from its growing installed customer base. Ultimately, the company's sales levels have not experienced a level of growth sufficient to address its cash burn rate and sustain its business."

With trends like those, it's no surprise that the IPO generated less capital than the company expected. More from the company:

"Tintri's orders for new products declined, it lost a few key customers and, consequently, its declining revenues led to the company's difficulties in meeting day-to-day expenses, as well as long-term debt obligations. A few months after its IPO, in December 2017, Tintri announced that it was in the process of considering strategic options and had retained investment bank advisors to assist it in this process."

As we previously noted a few weeks ago, "[t]here's no way any strategic buyer agrees to buy this thing without a 363 comfort order."  With Triplepoint Capital LLC agreeing to provide a $5.4mm DIP credit facility, this is precisely the path the company seeks to take.

*****

Meanwhile, Domo Inc. ($DOMO) is a Utah-based computer software company that recently IPO’d. Per Spark Capital’s Alex Clayton:

Domo recently drew down $100M from their credit facility and currently only has ~6 months of cash left with their current burn rate. Given they raised $730M in equity capital from investors and another $100M through their credit facility, it implies they have spent roughly $750M over the past 8 years to reach a little over $100M in ARR, an extraordinary and unprecedented amount of cash burn for a SaaS company. They have $72M in cash.

That was before the IPO. This is after the IPO:

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Draw your own conclusions.

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.

🚗Where’s the Auto Distress? Part II (#MAGA!!)🚗

In “🚗Where's the Auto Distress?🚗,” we poked fun at ourselves and our earlier piece entitled “Is Another Wave of Auto-Related Bankruptcy Around the Corner?” because the answer to the latter has, for the most part, been “no.” But both pieces are worth revisiting. In the latter we wrote,

Production levels, generally, are projected to decline through 2021. Obviously, reduced production levels and idled plants portend poorly for a lot of players in the auto supply chain. 

And in the former we noted,

So, sure. Distressed activity thus far in 2018 has been light in the automotive space. But dark clouds are forming. Act accordingly.

And by dark clouds, we didn’t exactly mean this but:

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With a seeming snap-of-the-finger, Harley Davidson ($HOG) announced that it would move some production out of the US to Europe, where HOG generates 16% of its sales, to avoid EU tariffs on imported product. Per the Economist:

It puts the cost of absorbing the EU’s tariffs up to the end of this year at $30m-45m. It has facilities in countries unaffected by European tariffs that can ramp up relatively quickly.

Trump was predictably nonplussed, saying “don’t get cute with us” and this:

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AND this:

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More from the Economist:

AMERICAN companies “will react and they will put pressure on the American administration to say, ‘Hey, hold on a minute. This is not good for the American economy.’” So said Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, on news that Harley-Davidson plans to move some production out of America to avoid tariffs imposed by the EU on motorcycles imported from America.

Will react? Harley Davidson has reacted. Likewise, motorcycle-maker Polaris Industries Inc. ($PII) indicated Friday that it, too, is considering moving production of some motorcycles to Poland from Iowa on account of the tariffs. Per the USAToday:

In its first quarter earnings released in April, Polaris projected around $15 million in additional costs in 2018. Rogers said the latest tariffs would raise costs further, declining to estimate by how much. "But we're definitely seeing an increase in costs," she said.

General Motors Co. ($GM) also weighed in. Per Reuters:

The largest U.S. automaker said in comments filed on Friday with the U.S. Commerce Department that overly broad tariffs could "lead to a smaller GM, a reduced presence at home and abroad for this iconic American company, and risk less — not more — U.S. jobs."

Zerohedge noted:

The Auto Alliance industry group seized on the figure, arguing that auto tariffs could increase the average car price by nearly $6,000, costing the American people an additional $45 billion in aggregate.

Moody’s weighed in as well:

US auto tariff would be broadly credit negative for global auto industry. Potential US tariffs on imported cars, parts are broadly credit negative for the auto industry. The Commerce Department is conducting a review of whether auto imports harm national security. A similar probe resulted in 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% on aluminum being implemented 1 June. A 25% tariff on imported vehicles and parts would be negative for most every auto sector group – carmakers, parts suppliers, dealers, retailers and transportation companies.

Relating specifically to Ford Motor Company ($F) and GM, it continued further:

US automakers would be negatively affected. Tariffs would be a negative for both Ford and GM. The burden would be greater for GM because it depends more on imports from Mexico and Canada to support US operations – 30% of its US unit sales versus 20% of US sales for Ford. In addition, a significant portion of GM's high-margin trucks and SUVs are sourced from Mexico and Canada. In contrast, Ford's imports to the US are almost exclusively cars — a franchise it is winding down. Both manufacturers would need to absorb the cost of scaling back Mexican and Canadian production and moving some back to the US. They would also probably need to subsidize sales to offset the tariffs for a time, with higher costs eventually passed on to consumers.

On the supply side, Moody’s continued:

Tariffs would also hurt major auto-parts manufacturers. The largest parts suppliers match automakers' production and vehicles and may struggle to adapt following any tariffs. Suppliers' efforts to keep cost down often result in multiple cross-border trips for goods and could incur multiple tariff charges. Avoiding those costs may disrupt the supply chain. Some parts makers have US capacity they could restart at a price. Companies with broad product portfolios, large market share, or that are sole suppliers of key parts will fare better.

And what about dealers and parts retailers? More from Moody’s:

Significant negative for US auto dealers, little change for parts retailers. Dealers heavily weighted toward imports (most of those we rate) will suffer. Penske Auto and Lithia would fare best. Many brands viewed as imports, such as BMW and Toyota, are assembled in the US, so there could be model shifting. Tariffs would be fairly benign for part retailers insulated by demand from the 260 million vehicles now on the road.

Upshot: perhaps its too early to give up on our predictions. Thanks to President Trump’s trade policy, there may, indeed, be auto distress right around the corner as big players adjust their supply chain and manufacturing models. Revenue streams are about to be disrupted.

🔥Amazon is a Beast🔥

The "Amazon Effect" Takes More Victims

Scott Galloway likes to say that mere announcements from Amazon Inc. ($AMZN) can result in billions of dollars of wiped-out market capitalization. Upon this week’s announcement that Amazon has purchased Boston-based online pharmacy startup Pillpack for $1 billion — beating out Walmart ($WMT) in the process — his statement proved correct. Check this out:

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We like to make fun of the Amazon narrative because we’re of the view that it’s overplayed — particularly in restructuring circles — and reflects a failure to understand broader macro trends (like the direct-to-consumer invasion noted below). Still, the market reaction to this purchase reflects the undeniable power of the “Amazon Effect” and we’d be remiss not to acknowledge as much. This purchase will likely be a turning point for pharmacies for sure; perhaps also, farther down the line, for benefits managers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. It also may provide Amazon with meaningful cross-pollination opportunities with its payments business — a subject that nobody seems to be talking about (more on this below).

Putting aside the losers for now, there are a variety of winners. First, obviously, are Pillpack’s founders, TJ Parker and Elliot Cohen. They stand to make a ton of money. Also its investors — Accel Partners, Atlas Venture, CRV, Founder Collective, Menlo Ventures, Sherpa Ventures and Techstars — at an 8x return, at least. Oh, and Nas apparently. And then there is Amazon itself. Pillpack isn’t a massive revenue generator ($100mm in ‘17) and it isn’t a big company (1k employees) but it packs a big punch: licenses to ship drugs in 50 sates. With this purchase, Amazon just hurdled over a significant regulatory quagmire.

So what is Pillpack? Per Wired (by way of Ben Thompson):

PillPack is trying to solve the problem of drug adherence by simplifying your medicine cabinet. Medication arrives in the mail presorted into clear plastic packets, each marked in a large font with vital information: day, time, pills inside, dosages. These are ordered chronologically in a roll that slots into the dispenser. Let’s say you need to take four different pills in the morning and two others in the afternoon every day: Those pills would be sorted into two tear-off packets: one marked 8am, followed immediately by the 2pm packet.

Put another way, Pillpack specializes in the convenience of getting you your medications directly with a design and user-experience focus to boot. The latter helps ensure that you’re taking the proper levels of medication at the right time.

Still, there are some limitations. Per The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon will be limited in what it can do, especially to start. PillPack’s specialty—packaging a month’s supply of pills for chronic-disease patients—is a small part of the overall market. It has said it has tens of thousands of customers versus Amazon’s hundreds of millions.

Current limitations notwithstanding, Thompson notes how much Pillpack’s service aligns with Amazon:

Amazon, particularly for Prime customers, is seeking to be the retailer of habit. That is, just as a chronic condition patient may need to order drugs every month, Amazon wants to be the source of monthly purchases of household supplies, and anything else one might want to buy along the way.

Like all aggregators, Amazon wins by providing a superior user experience, particularly when it comes to delivering the efficient frontier of price and selection. To that end, moving into pharmaceuticals via a company predicated on delivering a superior user experience makes total sense.

Thompson notes further:

The benefit Amazon will provide to PillPack, on the other hand, is primarily about dramatically decreasing the customer acquisition costs for a solution that is far better for consumers; to put it another way, Amazon will make a whole lot more people aware of a much more customer-friendly solution. Frankly, I have a hard time seeing why that is problematic.

To be sure, Amazon will benefit beyond its unique ability to supercharge PillPack’s customer acquisition numbers: just as Walgreen and CVS’s pharmacies draw customers to their traditional retail stores, PillPack’s focus on regular ordering fits in well with Amazon’s desire to be at the center of its customers day-to-day lives. This works in two directions: first, that Amazon now has a direct connection to a an ongoing transaction, and second, that would-be Amazon customers are dissuaded from visiting a retail pharmacy and, inevitably, buying something else along the way. This was a point I made in Amazon’s New Customer:

This, though, is why groceries is a strategic hole: not only is it the largest retail category, it is the most persistent opportunity for other retailers to gain access to Prime members and remind them there are alternatives.

A similar argument could be made for prescription drugs: their acquisition is one of the most consistent and predictable ways by which potential customers exist outside of the Amazon ecosystem. It makes a lot of sense for Amazon to reduce the inclination to ever go elsewhere.

It seems that Amazon is doing that lately for virtually everything. Consistently, further expansion beyond just chronic-disease patients seems inevitable. Margin exists elsewhere in the medical chain too and, well, Jeff Bezos once famously said “Your margin is my opportunity.” David Frankel of Founder Collective writes:

The story of the last five years has been that of bricks and mortar retailers frantically trying to play catch-up with Amazon. By acquiring PillPack, Amazon is now firmly attacking another quarter trillion dollars of TAM. Bezos is a tenacious competitor and has just added the most compelling consumer pharmacy to enter the game since CVS was founded in 1963.

TJ Parker understands the pharma business in his bones, has impeccable product sensibilities, and now has the backing of the most successful retail entrepreneur in history.

Expect some real healthcare reform ahead.

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No wonder those stocks all sh*t the bed. That all sounds downright horrifying for those on the receiving end.

*****

Recall weeks back when we noted this slide in Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends” presentation:

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.23.24 AM.png

Healthcare spending continues to rise which, no doubt, includes the cost of medication — a hot button issue of price that even Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have agreed on. This purchase dovetails nicely with Amazon’s overall health ambitions. Per the New York Times:

But Mr. Buck and others said Amazon might have a new opportunity. A growing number of Americans are without health insurance or have such high deductibles that they may be better off bargain shopping on their own. He estimated that 25 million Americans fell into that category.

Until now, he said, PillPack has not aggressively competed on price. With Amazon in charge, “how about they start posting prices that are really, really aggressive?” Mr. Buck said.

As Pillpack increases its scale, Amazon will be able to exert more leverage in the space. This could have the affect of compressing (certain) pharmaceutical prices. To get there, Amazon will undoubtedly seize the opportunity to subsume Pillpack/pharma into Amazon Prime, providing Members discounts on medicine much like it provides Whole Foods shoppers discounts on bananas.

There is other opportunity to expand the user base as well. People are looking to save money on healthcare as much as possible. With cash back rewards, Amazon can offer additional discounts if consumers were to carry and use the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card — which already offers 5% back on Amazon.com and WholeFoods purchases (plus money back elsewhere too). Pillpack too? We could envision a scenario where people scrap their current plastic to ensure that they’re getting discounts off of one of the most rapidly rising expenditures out there. Said another way, as more and more consumer staples like food and medicine are offered by Amazon, Amazon will be able to entice Pillpack customers with further card-related discounts. And grow a significant amount of revenue by way of its card offering. No doubt this is part of the plan. And don’t forget the data that they would compile to boot.

Per Forbes shortly after Amazon launched its Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card,

Given that Amazon credit card holders spend the highest on its platform, the company is looking at ways to expand its credit card consumer base. CIRP estimates that approximately 15% of Amazon’s U.S. customers have any one of Amazon’s credit cards, representing approximately 21 million customers. However, growth of its card base has not kept pace with its growing Prime membership. In June 2016, it was estimated that Amazon has around 63 million Prime members. Assuming that only Prime members have an Amazon credit card, it would mean that only a third of its Prime customers have one of its credit cards. According to a survey by Morgan Stanley, Amazon Prime members spend about 4.6 times more money on its platform than non-prime members. Its credit card holders spend even greater amounts than what Prime members spend. By enticing its prime customers to own its credit cards, Amazon will be encouraging them to spend more on its platform. Its latest card is aimed at attracting Prime customers by offering deals not only on Amazon.com but on other shopping destinations as well. This can lead to higher spending by existing Prime customers and help convert the fence sitters into Prime memberships.

And those numbers are dated. Amazon Prime now has 100mm members. Imagine if they could all get discounts on their meds. 💰💥💰💥

All of which begs the question: who gets hurt and who benefits (other than Visa ($V)) from this potential secondary effect? 🤔

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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Oil & Gas (Short Underwriting & Defaults)

Sometimes distressed investing returns get upended by practical realities. The question is: were those realities accounted for in the underwriting?

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A Trade War With China & Is New York City F*cked? Part IV (#MAGA!)

Each passing day of Washington DC news this week added an additional 10 years of wear and tear to our already downtrodden souls. Sheesh.

To summarizePresident Trump directed the U.S. Trade Representative to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese goods for additional 10% tariffs; he also threatened an additional $200 billion. If this is all a big set up for some profound negotiation that America will “win,” well, generally speaking, you need the other side to return your calls. Apparently China isn’t doing that. Womp womp (speaking of “womp womp,” eff you Corey L.).

Still, U.S. chipmakers are cheering punitive measure against China. Why? Because they’re actively fighting a war with China over attempted intellectual property raids. See, e.g., Micron Technology Inc. ($MU).

According to Bill McBrideMerrill Lynch wrote:

The good news is that we are still many steps away from a full blown global trade war. The bad news is that the tail risks are rising and our work and the literature suggest a major global trade confrontation would likely push the US and the rest of the world to the brink of a recession. So far, the trade actions taken by the Trump White House and trading partners have been relatively modest and in turn have had a limited impact on the economy and financial markets. The next round of $100-$200bn of tariff between US and China may prove more substantial. Further escalation like auto tariffs would lead us to reassess the US economic outlook.

Yikes. Well, if auto stocks were any indication on Friday, that reassessment may be in order:..

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#BustedTech (Short Busted IPOs…cough…DOMO)

Tintri Inc., a publicly-traded ($TNTR) Delaware-incorporated and Mountain View California based provider of enterprise cloud and all-flash and hybrid storage systems appears to be on the brink of bankruptcy. There's no way any strategic buyer agrees to buy this thing without a 363 comfort order. 

In an SEC filing filed on Friday, the company noted:

"The company is currently in breach of certain covenants under its credit facilities and likely does not have sufficient liquidity to continue its operations beyond June 30, 2018."

Furthermore, 

"Based on the company’s current cash projections, and regardless of whether its lenders were to choose to accelerate the repayment of the company’s indebtedness under its credit facilities, the company likely does not have sufficient liquidity to continue its operations beyond June 30, 2018. The company continues to evaluate its strategic options, including a sale of the company. Even if the company is able to secure a strategic transaction, there is a significant possibility that the company may file for bankruptcy protection, which could result in a complete loss of shareholders’ investment."

And yesterday the company's CEO resigned from the company. All of this an ignominious end for a company that IPO'd almost exactly a year ago. Check out this chart:

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Nothing like a $7 launch, a slight post-IPO uptick, and then a crash and burn. This should be a warning sign for anyone taking a look at Domo — another company that looks like it is exploring an IPO for liquidity to stay afloat. But we digress. 

The company's capital structure consists of a $15.4mm '19 revolving credit facility with Silicon Valley Bank, a $50mm '19 facility with TriplePoint Capital LLC, and $25mm of 8% convertible notes. Revenues increased YOY from $86mm in fiscal 2016 to $125.1mm in fiscal 2017 to $125.9mm in fiscal 2018. The net loss, however, also moved up and right: from $101mm to $105.8mm to $157.7mm. The company clearly has a liquidity ("net cash") covenant issue (remember those?). Accordingly, the company fired 20% of its global workforce (~90 people) in March (a follow-on to a 10% reduction in Q3 '17). The venture capital firms that funded the company — Lightspeed Venture Partners among them — appear to be long gone. Silver Lake Group LLC and NEA Management Company LLC, unfortunately, are not; they still own a good amount of the company.

"Isn't cloud storage supposed to be all the rage," you ask? Yeah, sure, but these guys seem to generate product revenue largely from sales of all-flash and hybrid storage systems (and stand-alone software licenses). They're mainly in the "intensely competitive IT infrastructure market," sparring with the likes of Dell EMCIBM and VMware. So, yeah, good luck with that.

L Brands (Long "Misplaced Optimism in Retail")

On Valentine’s Day, in “Misplaced Optimism in Retail: L Brands - What the Holy F*#*?,” we clowned on Leslie Wexner’s aggressive approach to retail and said “tell us that you don’t want to short the sh*t out of the stock.” It was trading at $49.87/share. Now...

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