Is Fairway Group Holdings Corp. Headed for Chapter 22?

We were tempted to just leave it alone at “yes,” but we’ll at least add what Moody’s had to say:

"Despite the lower debt burden following the company's emergence from bankruptcy in 2016, we believe Fairway's capital structure is unsustainable given weaker than anticipated operating performance and upcoming debt maturities," stated Moody's Vice President and lead analyst for the company, Mickey Chadha. "Fairway is facing an extremely promotional business environment, and with competitive openings in its markets expected to continue, the ability to improve profitability at a level sufficient to support the current capital structure looks highly suspect, rendering a further debt restructuring highly likely in our estimation over the next 12-18 months," added Chadha.

Furthermore:

The ratings reflect elevated risk of another requisite debt restructuring or distressed exchange given Fairway's deemed untenable capital structure, evidenced in part by very weak credit metrics, weak and eroding liquidity, and upcoming debt maturities including a $25 million LC facility that matures October 2018 and more than $100 million (including PIK interest) of senior secured term loans that mature in January 2020. Moody's estimates lease adjusted debt-to-EBITDA in excess of 10 times, and EBIT-to-interest of less than 1.0 time over the next twelve months.

Remember: this company already shed $140mm of secured debt and $8mm in annual interest expense in the last bankruptcy a mere two years ago. In the company’s Disclosure Statement, company counsel Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP wrote:

Upon emergence from bankruptcy, all borrowings under the DIP Term Loan will be converted into an exit facility on a first out basis leaving an estimated $42 million of cash and cash equivalents on Fairway’s balance sheet that will allow it to maintain its operations and satisfy its obligations in the ordinary course of business and position Fairway for long term success.

Not to get ahead of ourselves here as Moody’s can surely be wrong. But, are we crazy or has the definition of “long term success” dramatically changed?

Which begs an interesting series of questions. First, at what point do professionals who have multiple chapter 22s attached to their names start to feel the affect of that in the marketplace? At what point do they get credibility checked on plan feasibility by judges at the confirmation hearing? “Mr. Lawyer ABC and Mr. Restructuring Advisor XYZ. Could you please explain why I should believe a thing you say about feasibility given that your last [insert applicable number here] grocery restructurings have all ended up back in bankruptcy court within short order? Have you properly guided your client to a truly ‘feasible long term success’ trajectory? Or are you really just succumbing to the wishes of stakeholders at the other side of the table (cough, GSO) whose business you hope to obtain in the future?

To be fair, we suppose if you service a monopoly of cases is a given sector and that sector is going to hell in a hand basket the way the grocery space is the likelihood of repeat bankruptcies goes up. Still, you’d think management teams (and/or the sponsors) would start to question the value of “quals” when those quals all ultimately result in an expensive round-trip ticket back to bankruptcy court.

💩Will KKR Pay Toys' Severance? Part II. 💩

On Wednesday we bashed Dan Primack’s notion that KKR would fund Toys R Us’ severance payments. Apparently we weren’t the only ones. Primack subsequently wrote:

 Equity share: In writing about Toys "R" Us on Tuesday, I mentioned that private equity firms have an obligation to portfolio company employees. Some readers pushed back via email, but it's worth noting that Toys backer KKR has been providing equity to some of its portfolio companies (including Gardner Denver, CHI Overhead Doors and Capsugel).

  • Obviously it's not apples-to-apples with Toys, but such equity-share does reflect a more modern private equity mentality toward portfolio company employees. Bloomberg wrote about the Gardner Denver example last year.

There’s ZERO CHANCE IN HELL KKR funds severance payments. Just stop Dan. If we’re wrong, we’ll gladly eat this.

Is Brookstone Headed for Chapter 22?

Go to Brookstone’s website for “Gift Ideas” and “Cool Gadgets” and then tell us you have any doubt. We especially liked the pop-up asking us to sign up for promotional materials one second after landing; we didn’t even get a chance to see what the company sells before it was selling us on a flooded email inbox. Someone please hire them a designer.

On Friday, Reuters reported that...

To continue reading, you must be a PETITION Member. Become one here.

💩Will KKR Pay Toys R Us' Severance?💩

Optimism Remains in Toys R Us Situation

Surprisingly.

You’d think that every person on the planet would be sufficiently jaded by anything Toys R Us at this point. Apparently not everyone. And, oddly, the optimism seems to come from someone typically critical/skeptical of private equity…

Yesterday Axios’ Dan Primack’s lead piece asked, “Should the former private equity owners of Toys "R" Us pay around $70 million in severance to the company's 33,000 laid-off employees?” The question seems to stem from reports that limited partners (i.e., pension funds) are questioning what took place with the Toys investment. We noted this on Sunday:

🔥Elsewhere in private equity, maybe there’ll be backlash emanating out of Toys R Us?? The Minnesota State Board of Investment voted to halt investments in KKR pending a review of the bigbox toy retailer. 🔥

With this as background, Primack wrote:

This is not an academic question. It's become the subject of some public pension investment committee meetings, prompted by a lobbying campaign by left-leaning nonprofit advocacy groups, and has gotten the private equity industry's attention.

  • The basic argument: Bain Capital, KKR and Vornado killed Toys "R" Us by saddling it with too much debt, while taking out fees along the way. It's only fair that they help folks who are without work because of private equity's mismanagement, particularly when PE firms are so rich and many of the employees were living paycheck-to-paycheck.

  • The legal argument: There is none. The private equity firms no longer own Toys "R" Us, and a bankruptcy court judge threw out the severance package because employees weren't high enough in the creditor stack.

We’re old enough to remember when mass shootings got private equity’s attention too. They promised to divest. They didn’t. And then Vegas happened. And then Florida happened. And then Bank of America ($BAC) swore off lending to gun companies only to, uh, lend to Remington Outdoor Company.

We’re old enough to remember people like Warren Buffett say that they should pay more in taxes. That his secretary has a higher effective tax rate than he does. But, to our knowledge, he didn’t exactly voluntarily write a billion dollar check to the U.S. Treasury.

Likewise, neither will KKR write a severance check to employees. No frikken way in hell. Why? Because there is no compulsion to do so. The legal argument? He’s right, “[t]here is none.” So, yeah, good luck with that.

And so the above is really where the piece should stop. A nice little moral high ground piece about how employees and vendors got effed, it is what is, now on to tariffs, Petsmart’s asset stripping “mystery,” Harley Davidson’s ($HOG) war with President Trump or Moviepass owner Helios & Matheson’s ($HMNY) stock hitting a record low.

But Primack also points out,

Finally, the pro-severance folks are a bit liberal (no pun intended) with their math. They argue the PE firms took out $464 million, by adding up advisory fees ($185m), expenses ($8m), transaction fees ($128m) and interest on debt held by the sponsors ($143m). Yes, we were first to point out how the general partners may have gotten back more than they put in. But some of those fees were shared with LPs — including the now-aghast public pensions — while the interest was held in CLOs that had their own investors. In other words, PE "profit" was much smaller than claimed (although, on the flip side, you could argue the firms collected management fees on Toys-related capital that ended up being set on fire... again, it's complicated). (emphasis added)

Right. We’re sure the Minnesota State Board of Investment is cutting a check as we speak.

Sadly Primack didn’t stop there; he continued,

PE firms do have moral obligations to portfolio company employees. You break it, you own it (even if you technically broke it while owning it, which caused someone else to own it).

Um, ok, sure.

He continues,

Bottom line: The PE firms should pay at least some of the severance, or figure out some other form of compensation. And I have a sense that they might. Not because of preening public pension staffers or legal obligations, but because it's the right thing to do. Sometimes it's just that simple.

LOL. Riiiiiiight. In the absence of Mr. Primack having an inside track at KKR, it’s just that fantastic (def = “imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality.”).

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?

To continue reading, you must be a PETITION Member. Become one here.

Bankruptcy Cases Suffer from Shrinkage

FTI Consulting Inc. ($FCN) recently released a “data”-driven analysis-cum-marketing-piece* that highlights the apparent rise of “Pre-filings” — otherwise known as prepackaged, prearranged or prenegotiated chapter 11 bankruptcy cases — during the 2015-2017 period. FTI examined 300 emerged cases (via plan of reorganization) from 2011-2017 and concluded that,

“Most restructuring professionals recognize that the average duration of Chapter 11 cases has become shorter in recent years, but the contraction in average case length has been particularly striking since 2015.”

Indeed, FTI points out that…

“…nearly 66% of cases that emerged in 2016-2017 were Pre-filings compared to approximately 40% over the previous five years….”

And:

“Consequently, the average duration of Chapter 11 reorganizations fell by nearly one-half in 2016-2017 compared to 2011-2015, to 235 days from 435 days.”

Sooooo, despite the rise in Pre-filings....

To continue reading, you must be a PETITION Member. Become one here.

 

Education and Tech (Short Cloudless PE-owned Software)

Blackboard Inc. is in Trouble

There’s been a lot of news circling around Blackboard Inc. these days. Even children aren’t out of bounds for the distressed vultures, it seems.

Blackboard is a provider of enterprise tech software solutions to the education industry (as well as the government and some businesses); it peddles, among other things, a “learning management system,” virtual classrooms, education analytics (i.e., test scores), and marketing and recruiting services. It is meant to be a one-stop shop for educational providers’ needs.

Back in July of 2011, Providence Equity Partners (“PEP”) took the Nasdaq-listed company private in an all-cash transaction valued at...

To continue reading, you must be a PETITION Member. Become one here.

More Pain in Casual Dining (Short Soggy Mozzarella Sticks)

RMH Franchise Holdings Inc. Files for Bankruptcy

In 🍟Casual Dining is a Hot Mess🍟, we wrote:

…don’t let the lull in restaurant activity fool you. As we’ve stated before, this is a space worth watching given intense competition and the rise of food delivery and meal kit services - both direct-to-consumer and in-grocery.

Looks like we spoke to soon about a lull. Earlier this week RMH Franchise Holdings Inc.filed for bankruptcy in the District of Delaware. If you’ve never heard of RMH Franchise Holdings Inc., have no fear. You haven’t. Nor had we. But it is...

To continue reading, you must be a PETITION Member. Become one here.

Busted Tech (Long Venture Debt, Short Venture Capital): Videology Inc.

In what could amount to a solid case study in #BustedTech and the up/down nature of entrepreneurship, Videology Inc., a Baltimore based software ad-tech company that generated $143.2 million in revenue in fiscal 2017 has filed for bankruptcy.

To continue reading, you must be a PETITION Member. Become one here.

Professional Shots Fired: Jay Alix Sues McKinsey

In “McKinsey Gets Thrown Under the Bus (Long Relationships with the WSJ),” we began,

Okay, this WSJ article is bananas. What are the chances that Jay Alix has a direct line in to Gerard Baker?

Given that the WSJ piece is now front in center in the “Complaint and Jury Demand” filed by Jay Alix in Alix v. McKinsey & Co. Inc., et al (page 4, paragraph 11), wethinks the chances are pretttttttty prettttttty high (we’re 100% speculating here so take this with the usual PETITION grain of salt). Crack open a beer, break out the popcorn, and kick back: there’s a lot to unpack here…

To continue reading, you must be a PETITION Member. Become one here.

Ponder This: The Bankruptcy Code's Treatment of Veterans

By: Ted Gavin, Managing Director & Founding Partner of Gavin/Solmonese

In recent years, ABI Presidents have pursued lengthy agendas, including the ABI Chapter 11 Commission, launching an ethics task force, and creating the Consumer Bankruptcy Commission – all worthy projects deserving our respect. I have a tough act to follow as the incoming president.

Last month, I was pleased to announce the formation of the ABI Task Force on Veterans Affairs. Led by members and U.S. veterans John Ames, John Penn and Jack Williams, the group is comprised of individuals who are committed to changing veterans’ lives in a meaningful way. The Task Force will examine how the bankruptcy system treats veterans differently, and unfortunately— less favorably. Recommendations and corrective steps will be proposed to Congress or the Rules Committee in the coming year to improve bankruptcy outcomes for all veterans.

Consider what it’s like for vets to return home with any one of the many issues our brave warriors experience after serving their country. And then add to that the financial burden imposed by their service— a burden exacerbated by the cost of transitioning to civilian life; the medical fees associated with caring for injuries; transportation expense to healthcare professionals located at inconveniently-located VA hospitals; and lost income each time they have to see a VA doctor.

Then imagine as the crushing burden of medical or consumer debt mounts, you may be treated in an unfavorable way under the current Bankruptcy Code— especially if you’re a disabled vet.

When a civilian qualifies for and receives social security disability payments, those payments are based on their past income, and in the event of a bankruptcy filing, are not counted as income under the means test. When a disabled veteran files a bankruptcy petition, their disability payments are counted as income under the means test. The effect of this disparity is that someone on veteran disability has a lower likelihood of being able to avail themselves of the complete discharge offered by chapter 7 than a debtor who receives social security disability payments. This is but one of the ways in which the Code fails to work for veterans and service members.

I look at this problem, and I am reminded that ABI’s membership has shown, time and time again, that when its talents are utilized and focused, we can literally redefine our field. And I ask, what solutions to this problem might be unlocked by the brainpower of our members? I know that we haven’t done enough to change the things we can for veterans.

For an organization that many associate with corporate mega-bankruptcies, we’ve achieved quite a lot to improve outcomes for individuals whose lives are impacted by bankruptcies – either their own, their employer’s, or the companies they have built that have fallen on hard times. And now, we’re going to make bankruptcy function better for those who have served our country.


   Ted Gavin is a Certified Turnaround Professional and the managing partner of Gavin/Solmonese. In 2016,  The Deal Pipeline  ranked Ted the #1 Crisis Manager in the U.S. based upon the number of active engagements. He has over 20 years of experience working with distressed companies and their stakeholders in diverse industries, including retail, transportation, regulated and non-regulated manufacturing, pharmaceutical and healthcare, professional services, construction, and metal-forming. He has served in leadership roles in engineering, manufacturing, information technology, and regulatory affairs functions. Ted has extensive experience in strategic planning and process re-engineering, with hands-on management experience in nonprofit, for-profit, and public sector operations. Ted testifies frequently as an expert witness on matters such as ordinary course of business issues in preference litigation, as well as on fiduciary duties of management in distressed companies.

 

Ted Gavin is a Certified Turnaround Professional and the managing partner of Gavin/Solmonese. In 2016, The Deal Pipeline ranked Ted the #1 Crisis Manager in the U.S. based upon the number of active engagements. He has over 20 years of experience working with distressed companies and their stakeholders in diverse industries, including retail, transportation, regulated and non-regulated manufacturing, pharmaceutical and healthcare, professional services, construction, and metal-forming. He has served in leadership roles in engineering, manufacturing, information technology, and regulatory affairs functions. Ted has extensive experience in strategic planning and process re-engineering, with hands-on management experience in nonprofit, for-profit, and public sector operations. Ted testifies frequently as an expert witness on matters such as ordinary course of business issues in preference litigation, as well as on fiduciary duties of management in distressed companies.

Is rue21 Becoming rue22? (Short Liberal Return Policies)

On Mary 15, 2017 - nearly exactly a year ago — rue21 Inc. became the latest in what was a string of specialty fashion retailers to file for bankruptcy; it sought to pursue both an operational and a financial restructuring. The company had 1179 brick-and-mortar locations in various strip centers, regional malls and outlet centers. It also had a capital structure that looked like this:

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 11.14.00 AM.png

Much of the leverage emanated out of an Apax Partners LLP-sponsored take-private transaction in 2013. We recently discussed Apax Partners in the context of FullBeauty here, in our recent Members’-only briefing.

Without any real contest, it was clear that the term loan holders constituted the “fulcrum” security and would end up swapping said loans for equity in the reorganized company. And that is precisely what happened. The ABL was covered, the term lenders funded a roll-up DIP credit facility along with new money to finance the pendency of the cases and then converted that DIP into an exit facility. The post-emergence capital structure consists of:

  • $125 million ABL; and

  • $50 million term loan (plus accrued interest on the DIP term loan as of the effective date).

General unsecured claimants were provided an equity “kiss” on the petition date and then, after the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors’ (“UCC”) formed, it extricated additional value in the form of, among other things, (i) a put option to sell its post-reorg equity to one of the reorganized debtors, and (ii) a waiver by the prepetition term lenders of their $200 million deficiency claim. While the UCC did try and go after third-party releases for Apax, Apax ultimately succeeded in obtaining the release pursuant to the bankruptcy court’s September 9 confirmation order on the basis that it…

“…agreed to (i) support the Plan, including by promptly facilitating and participating in prepetition Plan discussions that culminated in the Restructuring Support Agreement and the Plan, notwithstanding that their equity position would likely be eliminated thereunder; and (ii) participate in the financing of the DIP Term Loan Credit Facility.”

In other words, Apax bought its release for $2 million in DIP allocation.

All told, this was a solid deleveraging of roughly $700 million. Moreover, the company closed roughly 400 stores. The company was seemingly well-positioned to effectuate the rest of its proposed restructuring, including (i) revamping its e-commerce strategy, (ii) improving the in-store experience, and (iii) pursuing a long-term business plan under relatively new management in a highly competitive retail atmosphere.

“Seemingly” being the operative word. In January, The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that the retailer experienced lackluster sales and tightening trade terms. Then, in February, Reuters reported that the company “is seeking financing after lackluster holiday sales failed to generate the cash it had hoped for….” It noted, further, that the company had engaged Piper Jaffray Companies ($PJC) to raise the funds. Notably, there has been nothing new on this front since. No news is probably not good news when it comes to this situation. Start the sewing machines: a Scarlet 22 tag may be in order and a liquidation on the horizon.

In the meantime, if the company is looking for ways to preserve liquidity, it might want to consider a far less generous return policy:

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 11.15.55 AM.png

With clothes like this and a customer like that, what could go wrong?

McKinsey Gets Thrown Under the Bus (Long Relationships with the WSJ)

Okay, this WSJ article is bananas. What are the chances that Jay Alix has a direct line in to Gerard Baker? Choice passage,

A Wall Street Journal analysis of disclosure filings in all 13 chapter 11 cases in which McKinsey’s restructuring unit, called McKinsey RTS, has participated shows the company routinely discloses far fewer names and descriptions of connections than other advisers.

 It continues,

McKinsey initially identified by name a total of 59 connections to participating debtors, creditors, lawyers and accountants in those cases. The roughly 45 other bankruptcy professionals involved in those cases, including law firms, accounting firms and restructuring advisers, reported more than 15,000 named connections in total. On average, McKinsey reported five such relationships per case compared with the other firms’ disclosures of 171 connections each.

Typically conflicts disclosures don’t figure as high drama warranting a major newspaper’s #longform front-page coverage.

To read this rest of this a$$-kicking commentary, you must be a Member...

⛽️Oil & Gas is...Back? Baby.⛽️(Long Comebacks)

As concerns grow about Iranian and Venezuelan production levels, oil and gas is now hovering around $67-68, and there are headlines like this: “Is Big Oil Back?” You’d think, therefore, there’d be a bit less talk about distressed oil and gas companies. After all, distressed oil and gas is so 2015.

Think again. This past week Houston-based Erin Energy Corporation ($ERN) filed for bankruptcy; it is a Sub-Saharan Africa-focused exploration and production company. Meanwhile, we’ve all heard about Rex Energy’s imminent restructuring, but now there are fissures appearing at Austin-based Jones Energy ($JONE) as well.

To read this rest of this a$$-kicking commentary, you must be a Member...

Q1 '18 Preliminary Review (Part 4: Case Administration Agents)

Prime Clerk LLC is a Monopoly of the Duopoly

In parts one (Legal), two (Investment Bankers - Members’ only) and three (Financial Advisors - Members’ only) of our ‘18 “Preliminary Review,” we noted that Q1 was dominated by Kirkland & Ellis LLPWeil Gotshal & Manges LLPEvercorePJT Partners, and Alvarez & Marsal North America LLC. As we looked at the statistics, however, it has become abundantly clear that the success shared by those firms in gobbling up large company-side cases is nothing compared to another industry player that, we’ve come to realize, is the epitome of company-side domination. Introducing Prime Clerk LLC.

Now this is an impressive case roster: Cenveo Inc.iHeartMedia Inc.Fieldwood Energy LLCClaire’s Stores Inc.Southeastern GrocersFirstEnergy Solutions. And that is just in Q1. Last year the firm was involved in Toys R Us Inc.Takata Inc.Puerto RicoSeadrill Ltd.,Avaya Inc., The Gymboree Corporation and Payless Holdings LLC to name just a small sampling. With the exception of Puerto Rico and First Energy, Weil or Kirkland is at the helm for every single one of the above cases. In other words, as much as Kirkland and Weil have dominated debtor market share, Prime Clerk has dominated Kirkland and Weil. And that is apparently not just a Q1 phenomenon. Already in Q2, Kirkland and Prime Clerk have been working together on EV Energy and Nine West Holding. We’re too time-constrained to dig back into 2017 or before, but something tells us that we’d start seeing a longer-dated pattern here. No wonder The Carlyle Group sank its claws into this case administrator: it is a practical monopoly of a duopoly.

What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 5)

Moelis & Company Pounds Chest

wolf-of-wall-street.jpg

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.