McKinsey Keeps Getting Burned (Long Newspaper Relationships)

We’ve previously covered the pending lawsuit by Jay Alix against McKinsey here. It’s next level and totally worth refreshing your recollection. You’ll recall the sequence of events: first, a Wall Street Journal article highlighted McKinsey’s failure to disclose potential conflicts in a variety of restructuring engagements and then Jay Alix immediately launched his lawsuit alleging racketeering, bribery, etc. Curious timing, as we said at the time. We wrote:

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).

Well, for McKinsey, the hits just keep on coming.

Subsequent to the above, the Wall Street Journal reported that a McKinsey retirement fund held investments that hinged on the result of some of the very bankruptcy cases that McKinsey RTS worked on. WHOOPS.

This week, Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona asked the director of the U.S. Trustee Program, a Justice Department unit, for clarity on the requirements governing how bankruptcy professionals comply with the Bankruptcy Code’s “disinterestedness” standard. Per The Wall Street Journal, Representative Biggs is “concerned that undisclosed conflicts at McKinsey & Co.’s restructuring unit may be compromising the nation’s bankruptcy system.” With all due respect to Mr. Biggs, there are greater dangers to the integrity of the bankruptcy system than the disclosure of McKinsey’s client list. Like some of the points made here (conflicts, generally). And here (independent directors). Or here (professionals’ fees). Or here (venue shenanigans and judges “playing ball”). This wouldn’t be the first time that a Congressman exhibited a negligible understanding of an issue. But we digress.

Anyway, like clockwork, Jay Alix pounced. This week, as (also) reported in The Wall Street Journal (which seems conveniently all over this drama), Mr. Alix filed papers in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond Virginia asking the bankruptcy judge to consider reopening the bankruptcy case of Alpha Natural Resources, a case that confirmed eons ago. Per the WSJ:

The revelation that McKinsey had a financial interest in the outcome of Alpha’s bankruptcy warrants reopening the case and revisiting whether the firm failed to properly disclose potential conflicts of interest, according to Mr. Alix.

First, HAHAHAHAHA. Right, ok. We’re sure the judge will reopen the case on this basis.

Second, the article is entitled “Disclosure Advocate Seeks to Reopen Coal Miner’s Bankruptcy.” Therein, the WSJ deadpans:

Mr. Alix has been relentless in his battle with McKinsey. He is currently pursuing litigation against the firm in several courts, hiring some of the country’s top lawyers and ethics experts to help him take on the consulting giant.

Mr. Alix has denied McKinsey’s accusation that he is seeking a competitive advantage for AlixPartners, the prominent restructuring firm he retired from in 2006 but retains a minority ownership stake in.

Right. Of course he isn’t looking to take out a competitor (that once poached his employees) and/or juice his equity. Promise.

He’s a mere “disclosure advocate.”

⚡️Important Toys R Us Update⚡️

Late last night Toys R Us filed a motion seeking approval of a “global settlement” in its chapter 11 cases. A consensual deal to move the cases forward in a way that maximizes what remains of the estate — without the value leakage that would result from protracted litigation — is undoubtedly a good thing for all parties in interest.

Still, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note the following considering recent noise in the market:

Source: Settlement Motion, 7/17/18

Source: Settlement Motion, 7/17/18

Ah, the sacrifices.

Healthcare Distress (Long Divine Intervention)

Literally a week ago in “💥KKR Effectively Tells Bernie Sanders to Pound Sand💥 we wrote:

Remember all of those early year surveys about where the distressed activity was going to be? Yeah, so do we. Everyone was bullish about healthcare distress. And, sure, there have been pockets here and there but nothing that’s been truly mind-blowing in that sector. In other words, wishful thinking. Unless you’re DLA Piper (Orion Healthcare Corp.4 West Holdings LLC), the (limited) healthcare activity has meant basically f*ck all for you.

The Gods have acted to make us look stupid. Look! Healthcare distress!

Neighbors Legacy Holdings Inc., an operator of 22 freestanding emergency centers throughout the state of Texas filed for bankruptcy on July 12, 2018. The company blames its filing on "financial difficulties caused in large part by increased competition, less favorable insurance payor conditions, declining revenues, and disproportionate overhead costs as compared to their operational income." In other words, its owners did too much too fast, taking on too much debt to expand too rapidly in a space that requires significant upfront capital investment in exchange for a 12-18 month lag in cash flow generation. Initiate death spiral. 

The company's financial numbers look brutal. Per the First Day Declaration:

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Footwear Brands Reap Heaps of VC Investment (Short B&M Footwear Retailers)

Back in March, in “Nine West & the Brand-Based DTC Megatrend,” we noted the following:

The Walking CompanyPayless ShoesourceAerosoles. The bankruptcy court dockets have been replete with third-party sellers of footwear with bursting brick-and-mortar footprints, high leverage, scant consumer data, old stodgy reputations and, realistically speaking, limited brand value. Mere days away from a Nine West bankruptcy filing, we can’t help but to think about how quickly the retail landscape is changing and the impact of brands. Why? Presumably, Nine West will file, close the majority of - if not all of - its brick-and-mortar stores and transfer its brand IP to its creditors (or a new buyer). For whatever its brand is worth. We suppose the company’s lenders - likely to receive the company’s IP in a debt-for-equity swap, will soon find out. We suspect “not a hell of a whole lot”.

Shortly thereafter, Nine West did file for bankruptcy but we were a little off on the rest. That is, unless $340mm constitutes “not a hell of a whole lot.” That amount, landed on after a competitive bidding process, resulted in a greater-than-expected value to Nine West’s estate. Remember: the company filed for bankruptcy with a stalking horse bidder offering “approximately $200 million (inclusive of the above-stated $123 million allocation to IP, subject to adjustment).” This is where bankruptcy functions as a bit of alternative reality: $340 million is a good result for a company with $1.6 billion of debt, exclusive of any and all trade debt — particularly when the opening bid is meaningfully lower. For a more fulsome refresher on Nine West’s bankruptcy filing, go here.

Subsequent to Nine West’s filing, the tombstones for footwear retailers continued to pile up. For instance, in mid-May, The Rockport Company LLC filed for bankruptcy with a telling narrative. We highlighted:

The company notes, "[o]ver the last several years the Debtors have faced a highly promotional and competitive retail environment, underscored by a shift in customer preference for online shopping." And it notes further, "[t]he unfavorable performance of the Acquired Stores in the current retail environment has made it difficult for the Debtors to maintain sufficient liquidity and to operate their business outside of Chapter 11." PETITION NOTE: This is like a broken record, already.

We continued:

In light of this, armed with a $20 million new-money DIP credit facility (exclusive of rollup amounts) extended by its prepetition ABL lenders, the company has filed for bankruptcy to consummate a stalking horse-backed asset purchase agreement with CB Marathon Opco, LLC an affiliate of Charlesbank Equity Fund IX, Limited Partnership for the sale of the company's assets - OTHER THAN its North American assets — for, among other things, $150 million in cash. The buyer has a 25-day option to continue considering whether to purchase the North American assets but the company does "not expect there to be any significant interest in the North American Retail Assets." Read: the stores. The company, therefore, also filed a "store closing motion" so that it can expeditiously move to shutter its brick-and-mortar footprint at the expiration of the option. Ah, retail. 

And, ah, footwear. Check out this lineup:

And so we asked:

Given all of that, would you want Rockport’s brick-and-mortar business?

Answer: no. Apparently nobody did. And, in fact, nobody — other than the stalking horse, CB Marathon Opco, LLC — wanted any part of Rockport’s business.

On July 6, the company filed a notice that it cancelled its proposed auction. There were no qualified bidders, it noted, thereby making CB Marathon Opco, LLC the winning bidder by default. And given that the stalking horse agreement excluded the U.S. brick-and-mortar assets, those assets are now officially kaput. A hearing at which the bankruptcy court will bless the sale is scheduled for July 16. Aside from some additional administrative matters in the case, that hearing will mark a wretched ending for a company founded in the early 1970s.

*****

Juxtapose that doom and gloom with this Techcrunch piece about the rise of venture capital in footwear:

Over the past year-and-a-half, investors have tied up roughly $170 million in an assortment of shoe-related startups, according to an analysis of Crunchbase data. The vast majority is going to sellers and designers of footwear that people might actually want to walk in.

Top funding recipients are a varied bunch, including everything from used sneaker marketplaces to high-end designers to toddler play shoes. Startups are also experimenting with little-used materials, turning used plastic bottles, merino wool and other substances into chic wearables.

The piece continues:

It should be noted that recent footwear funding activity comes on the heels of some positive developments for the shoe industry.

Positive developments huh? “Some” must be the operative word given the preface above. There’s more:

First, this is a huge and growing industry. One recent report pegged the global footwear market at $246 billion in 2017, with annual growth rates of around 4.5 percent.

Second, public markets are strong. Shares of the world’s most valuable footwear company — Nike — have climbed more than 50 percent over the past nine months to reach a market cap of nearly $130 billion. Stocks of several smaller rivals, including Adidas, have also performed well.

Third, men are spending more on footwear. Though they’ve long been stereotyped as the gender with more restrained shoe-buying habits, men are putting more money into footwear and could be on track to close the spending gap.

And:

…one other bullish sneaker trend footwear analysts point to is the changing buying habits of women. Driven perhaps by a desire to walk more than a few blocks without being in pain, we’re buying fewer high heels and more sneakers.

The piece goes on to list a lineup of well-funded footwear companies. In marketplaces, GOAT and StockX. In streetwear, Stadium Goods. For children, Super Heroic. For comfort, AllbirdsRothy’s, and Birdies. And the article neglected to mention KoioGreats, and M. Gemi, to name a few. If you feel as if these names are unfamiliar because you didn’t see them at a brick-and-mortar footwear retailer in your last trip to the mall, well…yeahThat ought to explain a lot.

Interestingly, before unironically asking (and not entirely answering) whether any of these companies actually make money, the article also highlights Tamara Mellon,“a two-year-old brand that has raised more than $40 million to scale up a shoe design portfolio that runs the gamut from flats to spike heels.” Indeed, the company recently raised a $24mm Series B round* to grow its Italian-made pureplay e-commerce direct-to-consumer brand. In reality, though, Tamara Mellon is only technically two years old. It was around before 2016. In a different iteration. That iteration filed for bankruptcy.

In early 2016, Tamara Mellon Brand LLC filed for bankruptcy because of a liquidity crisis. And it couldn’t sufficiently raise capital outside of a chapter 11 filing to ensure its survival. After filing for bankruptcy, the company took on a $2mm debtor-in-possession credit facility from Ms. Mellon and, after combatting an equityholder-led “recharacterization”** challenge (paywall), swapped its term loan debt into equity. Winning prepetition equityholders like Ms. Mellon and venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA) came out with 16 and 31.1 percent of the equity, respectively. In turn, NEA capitalized the company to the tune of approximately $12mm.

Which highlights the obvious: not all of these companies will ultimately have renowned founders who merit second chances. A number of these high-flying e-commerce upstarts will fail; some of them will file for bankruptcy. The question is: as the funding rounds pour in from venture capitalists looking for the next big exit, how many other brands and shoe retailers will they push into bankruptcy first?

*****

*In October 2017, we wrote the following in “Sophia Amoruso's Nasty Gal Failure = Trite Lessons (Short Puffery)”:

We love how entrepreneurs are all about "move fast and break things" and "don't be afraid to fail" but then when they do, and do so badly, there is barely anything that really provides an in-depth post-mortem…Take, for instance, this piece of puffy garbage about Sophia Amoruso, which purports to inform readers about what Ms. Amoruso learned from Nasty Gal's rapid decline into bankruptcy. Instead it provides some evergreen inspirational advice that applies to virtually...well...everything and anything. TOTALLY USELESS.  

Apropos, the above-cited Fast Company piece is lip service Exhibit B. The piece notes:

Tamara Mellon cofounded Jimmy Choo with, well, Jimmy himself back in 1996. But in 2016, she decided to launch her own eponymous luxury shoe brand. It wasn’t easy, though: When she tried to go to high-end factories in Italy, she discovered that many refused to work with her, citing non-compete clauses with the Jimmy Choo brand.

But through persistence, she prevailed, and found factories that made shoes for other luxury brands.

We gather that what happened earlier in 2016 wasn’t relevant to the PR piece. Curious: is “persistence” a new euphemism for “bankruptcy”?

**If we understand what happened here correctly, other existing equityholders tried to recharacterize Ms. Mellon’s term loan holding as equity, effectively squashing her priority secured claim and demoting that claim to equal to or less than the equityholders’ claims. If successful, Ms. Mellon would not have been able to swap her debt for equity. Moreover, the other equityholders would have had a greater chance of a recovery on their claims. They failed, presumably recovering bupkis.

#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:

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 7.55.42 PM.png

Draw your own conclusions.

Healthcare (Short Predictions. Nobody Effing Knows Part II)

Remember all of those early year surveys about where the distressed activity was going to be? Yeah, so do we. Everyone was bullish about healthcare distress. And, sure, there have been pockets here and there but nothing that’s been truly mind-blowing in that sector. In other words, wishful thinking. Unless you’re DLA Piper LLP, the (limited) healthcare activity has meant basically f*ck all for you.

Fitch Ratings recently released a report indicating that it expects healthcare-related defaults to remain low. Choice bit:

"We don't see any catalyst for there to be a great increase in defaults in the sector," said Megan Neuburger, Fitch's team head for healthcare and an author of the report. "It tends to be a fairly stable sector from a cyclical perspective, so the drivers of bankruptcies tend to be more idiosyncratic."

In other words, the chief drivers of healthcare bankruptcies aren't the same as in other sectors, which are more influenced by economic downturns or factors related to the commodity cycle, she said. Neuburger said her team doesn't see any catalyst on the horizon that would prompt an uptick in healthcare defaults this year or in 2019.

We’ll see if the early 2019 surveys reflect this view.

💥KKR Effectively Tells Bernie Sanders to Pound Sand💥

Toys R Us (Short Severance Payments)

Toys R Us (Short Severance Payments). Ok, this is getting out of hand. Shortly after Dan Primack wrote that KKR ought to pay for 30,000 employees’ severance OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF KKR’S HEART, Pitchbook jumped in parroting the same nonsense.

Look. Don’t get us wrong. Long time readers know that we’ve been hyper-critical of the PE bros since our inception. But this is just ludicrous already. In “💩Will KKR Pay Toys' Severance?💩” and again in “🔥Amazon is a Beast🔥 we noted that “[t]here’s ZERO CHANCE IN HELL KKR funds severance payments.” We stand by that. Without any legal compunction to do so, these guys aren’t going to just open up their coffers to dole out alms to the affected. That’s not maximizing shareholder value. Those affected aren’t exactly future LPs.

But wait. This keeps getting better.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that on July 5:

Nineteen members of Congress sent a letter to the private-equity backers of Toys “R” Us Inc. questioning their role in the toy retailer’s bankruptcy and criticizing the leveraged-buyout model as an engine of business failure and job loss.

The letter’s content? Per the WSJ:

It asks whether the investment firms deliberately pushed Toys “R” Us into bankruptcy and encourages them to compensate the roughly 33,000 workers who lost their jobs.

Take a look at this letter. It demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of how private equity works.

Meanwhile, Congress cannot get the President of the United States to turn over his tax returns with the entire country waiting for that to happen and yet we’re supposed to believe that a letter will compel KKR to make severance payments. Utterly laughable. KKR owns those fools and they know it. Okay: maybe not Bernie Sanders.

Imagine the response:

“Um, yes, Representative Poindexter. We did. We deliberately flushed hundreds of millions of dollars of equity checks down the toilet. We hear that makes a compelling marketing message to potential LPs of our next big fund.”

Thankfully, you don’t have to imagine the response because KKR already responded. Per the WSJ:

KKR issued a response dated July 6 stating that Toys “R” Us’s troubles were caused by market forces—specifically the growth of e-commerce retailers—and that the decision to liquidate was made by the company’s creditors, not KKR, and was against the firm’s wishes.

Furthermore:

KKR stated in its response that it reinvested $3.5 billion in Toys “R” Us over the course of its ownership and didn’t take any investment profits. It added that it wrote down its entire equity investment of $418 million and challenged reports that it had earned a profit on the investment.

“Even accounting for fees received from Toys ‘R’ Us, we have lost many millions of dollars. To find anyone who profited, one would need to look at the institutions that pushed for Toys to liquidate its U.S. business,” the firm wrote.

In other words: “Pound sand, Sanders.”

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...

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💩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?

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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....

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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...

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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...

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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.

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