🐶Petsmart Gets its Deal🐶

DON’T. MESS. WITH. DAISY. CHAPTER 5. (LONG ASSET STRIPPING AND COERCIVE CONSENT SOLICITATIONS).

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It's a beautiful day. You're walking down the street with your cute little puppy, Bacca, enjoying some much-needed serenity. The wind is blowing your hair back and the smell of flowers permeates the air. Life is good. You’re happy. Maybe you'll treat sweet lil' Bacca to some of that sweet organic sh*t today; after all, you're only a short walk to the local pet store. But then your phone rings.

"Bro. We need to make a decision."

"About what?" you ask, your chill vibes violently crushed by the voice of your excited junior analyst.

"PetSmart. They're doing an exchange. And it's coercive AF!"

Frikken Petsmart. You look down at Bacca and you swear you see a grimace on his cute little face as he stares back at you. You refocus your attention on your analyst, "Alright dude. Relax. What's the story?"

"Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer is hosting an all hands term lender call soon. At issue is whether the group of term lenders will, in exchange for some enhanced economics, amend the credit docs governing the loan to post facto bless the company's absurd Chewy.com dividend." 

You reflect a bit on Petsmart as you continue your walk. Nearly exactly two years ago the company announced its whopper of a $3.35b Chewy.com transaction; it took on massive amounts of debt to fund the deal. It was the largest e-commerce acquisition ever — topping Walmart Inc’s acquisition of Jet.com. Venture capitalists instantaneously made a boatload of money (the pre-acquisition funding topped out at $451mm) but immediately the Petsmart capital structure looked wobbly after a two-part debt offering of (a) $1.35 billion of ‘25 8.875% senior secured notes and (b) $650 million of ‘25 5.875% unsecured notes. Rounding out the capital structure was a $750 million ABL, a $4.3 billion cov-lite first-lien term loan and $1.9 billion of cov-lite ‘23 senior unsecured notes. The company’s leverage ratio was approximately 8.5x.

You then reflect on June 2018. You recall reading this in PETITION:

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👚Resale is Real Real. Eff “The Amazon Effect.”👚

The #RetailApocalypse is More Than Amazon Inc.

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In September 2017 in “Minimalistic Consumption by Inheritance,” we wrote:

Much has been made about the death of retail and the "Amazon Effect." We mention it quite a bit … but we are also on record as calling the Amazon narrative lazy. After all, there's a reason why resale apps are among the highest downloaded apps in the Itunes app store. We've noted this before: millennials have no problem buying, reselling, buying, and reselling. I mean, sh*t, we're now seeing commercials for OfferUp on television. We've noted the rise of Poshmark and other apps here and here. Perhaps there's more here than meets the eye.

We doubled down with “Enough Already With the ‘Amazon Effect’” in April 2018. Citing the ThredUp 2018 Resale Report, we noted:

…the resale market is on pace to reach $41 billion by 2022 and 49% of that is in apparel. Moreover, resale is growing 24x more than overall apparel retail. “[O]ne in three women shopped secondhand last year.” 40% of 18-24 year olds shopped resale in 2017. Those stats are bananas. This comment is illustrative of the transformation taking hold today,

“The modern consumer now has a choice between shopping traditional retail or trying new, innovative business models. New apparel experiences and brands are emerging at record rates to replace old ones. Rental, subscription, resale, direct-to-consumer, and more. The closet of the future is going to look very different from the closet of today. When you get that perfectly curated assortment from Stitch Fix, or subscribe to Rent the Runway’s everyday service, or find that killer handbag on thredUP you never could have afforded new, you start realizing how much your preferences and behavior is changing.”

Finally, we wrote in January — in “ Retail May Get Marie Kondo'd ,” — that the Force is now strong(er) with the resale trend.

We concluded:

The RealReal is signaling that resale is so big that it’s ready to IPO. Talk about opportunistic. No better time to do this than during Kondo-mania. The company has raised $115mm in venture capital … most recently at a $745mm valuation.

None of this is a positive for the likes of J.C. Penney. They need consumers to consume and clutter. Not declutter. Not go resale shopping. We can’t wait to see who is first to mention Marie Kondo as a headwind in a quarterly earnings report. Similarly, we wonder how long until we see a Marie Kondo mention in a chapter 11 “First Day Declaration.” 

So, where are we going with all of this?

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💥Projection Poppycock: Casper vs. Mattress Firm💥

🛏 Casper Joins Long List of Unicorns & Prospective IPOs 🛏

News emerged this week that Casper — the direct-to-consumer mattress company that is now becoming less-and-less direct-to-consumer and more-and-more brick-and-mortar (solo, and at Costco and Target) — intends to join the frenzied rush of money-losing companies headed towards a public offering in the midst of once-inverted yield curves and fears of recession. The appetite for IPOs is so frenetic that Lyft’s IPO was over-subscribed after a mere two days of roadshow — this, notwithstanding the fact that the company (a) has blown through crazy piles of money and (b) is unsure of its business model and whether it will ever even earn a profit. It then priced above the high end of its initial range and then popped like a champagne cork once shares opened for trading.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Source: Yahoo Finance

Because, you know, whatevs: details shmetails. IPO!!*

The Information got its hands on some leaked Casper financials (paywall) and…spoiler alert! It, too, “continued to lose money” ($18mm in Q3). That said, in Q3 of 2018, the mattress maker reportedly had net revenue of $105.3mm (a 60% YOY increase) on $34.9mm of marketing spend (“only” a 12.9% increase), projecting net revenue of $373mm for fiscal year 2018 and $8mm of EBITDA for 2019. Per The Information, here is a summary of Casper’s financials:

Source: The Information

Source: The Information

Also:

Casper’s presentation also contained bullish forecasts for the future, with net revenue jumping to $1.655 billion and $2.135 billion in 2022 and 2023 respectively, and EBITDA of $33 million and $450 million during those years. (emphasis added)

For North America, which accounts for the vast majority of the company’s business, ecommerce represented over 68% of its third quarter gross revenue, while retail was just over 11%. (emphasis added)

The Information piece includes no data points about the number of stores that Casper ultimately expects to deploy for its growth push but CNN reported last year that Casper hopes to have 200 stores by 2021 (a figure reiterated by Fortune in the tweet below). News surfaced recently that Casper also just closed on a $100mm Series D financing provided by, among others, Target Corp ($TGT), the CEO of Canada Goose Holdings ($GOOS) and the former co-founder and chairman of Crate & Barrel. Total funding is up to $340mm. Per Fortune, “[t]he startup will use the capital to expand internationally and grow its physical retail stores.

In total, those are some bullish projections considering the competitive landscape:

The online mattress market has seen increasing competition in recent years from retailers including Amazon and Walmart. There are also other startups, such as Purple and Tuft & Needle, which was acquired by the mattress manufacturer Serta Simmons Bedding last year. A large mattress store chain, the Mattress Firm, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, which Casper noted in its presentation as a favorable event for the competitive landscape. (emphasis added)

Oy, Mattress Firm. SAVAGE BURN, BRO!! 🔥

Speaking of Mattress Firm, we have projections there too: thank you bankruptcy!! And this allows for a fascinating juxtaposition.

Source: Mattress Firm Disclosure Statement

Source: Mattress Firm Disclosure Statement

With a fraction of the brick-and-mortar presence, Casper projects to have net revenue that is merely $300mm less than Mattress Firm by 2023! How’s that for a commentary about disruption, e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail? Note that Mattress Firm expects to have $630mm in fixed store expenses (for approximately 2500 stores)** while Casper would have approximately $127mm. Per The Information:

Casper said each new store in the U.S. typically involves $635,000 in capital expenditures and $70,000 in inventory, with an average payback of less than 24 months.

If we’re doing our math right, that means Casper has a significantly larger per-store capex spend than Mattress Firm. On the plus side, unless they’re total frikken morons (or trolls), Casper likely won’t have competing stores sitting literally across the highway from one another.*** So, there’s that.

CEO Philip Krim once said, “We’ve never been anti-retail — just anti-mattress retail.

ANOTHER SAVAGE BURN, BRO!! 🔥🔥

He also said:

"Normally you open a store, have to build presence, then the store loses money and eventually pays back after many years," Krim said. "We have such a productive digital business that we’re profitable on day one of opening a store."

(PETITION Note: not sure how you’re “profitable on day one of opening a store” when the average payback is “less than 24 months” but who are we to call out competing narratives?)

Casper projects $450mm in EBITDA by 2023. In contrast, Mattress Firm projects merely $274mm. Casper has the benefit of landing brick-and-mortar space at a time when landlords are more forgiving with rents; it also has the hyped-up DTC narrative blowing at its back — a clear contrast to the old and stodgy market view of Mattress Firm (which, to be fair, also was able, over the course of its bankruptcy, to renegotiate a meaningful number of its leases with landlords). Said another way, Casper simply seems better positioned to omni-channel its way to success while incumbents like Mattress Firm continue to play catchup. 

Now, these are projections, right? So, query which kind of projection is more full of sh*t? Startup projections or bankrupted debtor projections? It’s a coin flip. In reality, the competitive posture of Casper vs. Mattress Firm four years from now is anyone’s guess. More likely than not, one or both of them are overly optimistic here. But if Casper is right about its projections, that could lead to a significant surprise for Mattress Firm. And given Mattress Firm’s previous strategies, would you want to put your money on Mattress Firm over Casper?

Continue to short strip mall landlords.

*****

Elsewhere in sleep disruption, S&P Global Ratings downgraded Serta Simmons Bedding LLC from B- to CCC+, stating:

…operating performance deteriorated in the fourth quarter of 2018 well below our expectations due to large volume declines with top customers and industry headwinds, leading to adjusted leverage increasing to near 11x as of Dec. 29, 2018.

😳


*Who stands to make money from such an IPO? Investors include Target Corp. ($TGT), Lerer Hippeau Ventures, IVP and New Enterprise Associates. Leonardo DiCaprio, Kyrie Irving and 50 Cent are also early backers.

**Mattress Firm had approximately 3250 stores on its chapter 11 bankruptcy petition date. According to certain bankruptcy materials, the company indicated that it would shed approximately 700 locations.

***Callback to “Mattress Firm Finally Rips the Band-Aid Off (Short Landlords),” wherein we wrote:

Thanks to an overly aggressive growth-by-acquisition strategy, you could essentially turn left and see a Mattress Firm, turn right, see a Mattress Firm, and turn around and see a Mattress Firm. 

And the company actually noted in its bankruptcy filing:

While these acquisitions have allowed Mattress Firm to enter major markets in which it previously did not have a significant presence, and to significantly expand its share of the retail market, they also left Mattress Firm with too many newly-rebranded stores in close proximity to existing Mattress Firm stores. The result has been a significant increase in Mattress Firm’s occupancy and related costs and a negative impact on the profitability of hundreds of its stores. There are many examples of a Mattress Firm store being located literally across the street from another Mattress Firm store.

⚡️Auto is the New Healthcare⚡️

Restructuring Professionals Salivate Over Supply Chain Disruption

In Sunday’s Members’-only briefing entitled “Auto Disruption ⬆️. Syncreon Group ⬇️,” we discussed, among many other topics (e.g., the macroeconomy, oil and gas distress, FTD Companies Inc., etc.), Syncreon Group BV as a proxy for upcoming auto distress. It seems that bankruptcy professionals have grown tired of saying that healthcare will be the hot area of distress and so focus is turning to auto. Here is Foley & Lardner LLP highlighting warning signs of supplier distress.

On Tuesday, auto industry consultants J.D. Power and LMC Automotive indicated that:

U.S. auto sales are expected to drop about 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, partly due to bad weather, mixed economic data and lower tax refunds….

Mmmm hmmm.

Per Reuters:

Retail sales are expected to touch 1,195,000 units in March, a 3.4 percent decline from a year earlier, the consultancies said on Tuesday.

The first-quarter sales are off to its slowest start since 2013, according to the industry consultants, who estimate retail sales in the quarter to be about 2.94 million vehicles - a decline of 4.9 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

“This is the first time in six years that Q1 sales will fall short of 3 million units. While the volume story could be better, there is remarkable growth in transaction prices, with records being set monthly,” Thomas King, senior vice-president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power, said.

Interestingly, the average transaction price increased over $1,000 YOY. It is unclear but that could be attributable to the move from lower cost sedans to higher-priced utility vehicles. If consumer confidence wanes — and there are some indications that it is increasingly shaky — this upward trend in pricing should be next to slow down.

💸Goldman Sachs Hops Aboard the Mall Short💸

Mall Shorts Gather Steam

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In last Wednesday’s “Thanos Snaps, Retail Disappears👿,” we included a LOOOOOONG list of retailers that are shutting down stores. Subsequently, J.Crew Group announced that it is closing a net 10 stores (20 J.Crew locations offset by 10 Madewell openings), Williams-Sonoma Inc. ($WSM) announced that it plans to close a net total of 30 stores, Hibbett Sports Inc. ($HIBB) announced approximately 95 stores will close this year, and Tommy Hilfiger closed its global flagship store on Fifth Avenue (Query: is New York City f*cked?) and its Collins Avenue store in Miami.

The point of the piece, however, wasn’t to wallow in retail carnage: rather, it was to make the point that there’s no way the malls — or at least certain malls — could continue business as usual.* With thousands of stores coming offline, we argued, there have to be malls that start feeling the pain and, eventually, run afoul of their lenders. We used $CBL as our poster child and closed by stating that Canyon Partners was shorting mall-focused CMBS via a CDS index, the Markit CMBX.BBB- (and lower indices).

Apparently Goldman Sachs Inc. ($GS) is in on the action. Late last week, Goldman urgedclients join the "big short" bandwagon by going short CMBX AAA bonds (while hedging in a pair trade by going long five-year investment-grade corporate CDX).” ZeroHedgesummarizes the Goldman report as follows:

Citing the bank's recent review of potential areas of financial imbalance across the US corporate and household sectors, [the Goldman analyst] notes that stretched CRE valuations ranked near the top in terms of risk level; and while a large and immediate commercial property price downturn is not the bank's baseline forecast, "a scenario with falling commercial property prices in the next 1-2 years is one to which we would attach non-negligible probability" the analysts caution.

And, then, in customary hyperbolic form, Zerohedge concludes:

Why is this notable? Because regular readers will recall that the 2007/2008 financial crisis really kicked in only after Goldman's prop desk started aggressively shorting various RMBS tranches, both cash and synthetic, in late 2006 and into 2007 and 2008, with the trade eventually becoming the "big short" that was popularized in the Michael Lewis book.

Will Goldman's reco to short CMBX-6 AAA be the trigger that collapses the house of cards for the second time in a row? While traditionally lightning never strikes twice the same place, the centrally-planned market is now so broken that even conventional idioms have to be redone when it comes to the world's (still) most important trading desk. In any case, keep an eye on commercial real estate prices: while residential markets have already peaked with most MSAs sliding fast, commercial may just be the first domino to drop that unleashes a tsunami of disastrous consequences across the rest of the market.

It is far from certain that all of this noise about shorting CMBS is anything more than isolated trades. One thing that is certain? Zerohedge is better at drumming up fear than Jordan Peele.

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*****

Speaking of J.Crew, S&P took a dump all over it yesterday as it downgraded the issuer credit rating to CCC and simultaneously downgraded its “intellectual property notes” — ouch, that must sting some (short asset stripping?) — and its secured term loan facility. The ratings agency maintains a “negative outlook” on the company, saying that “operating results deteriorated considerably in the most recent quarter,” and “approaching maturities of the company’s very high debt burden could lead J.Crew to restructure its debt in the next 12 months.” S&P provides a damning assessment:

We think the company continues to face significant headwinds to turn around operations which haven’t meaningfully improved since the J Crew brand relaunch in 2018. These threats include fast fashion and online retail, as well as continued declines in mall traffic and greater price transparency across the apparel industry. We believe these trends are especially heightened for U.S. mid-priced apparel retail players as consumers shift apparel spending toward brands with a consistent customer message or more appealing prices, given the continued preference for value, freshness, and convenience.

Tell us how you really feel, S&P.

*****

Speaking of damning assessments, there was this flamethrower of a press release issued by Legion Partners Holdings LLC, Macellum Advisors GP LLC, and Ancora Advisors LLC regarding Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. ($BBBY). Burn, baby, burn.

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PETITION readers will recall our previous discussion of BBBY. In January in “Is Pier 1 on the Ropes? (Short “Iconic” Brands),” we included discussion of BBBY and declared:

Bed Bath & Beyond swam against the retail tide last week as the company’s stock showed huge gains after it said that it is ahead of its long-term plan and that it is successfully slowing down declines in operating profit and net earnings per share. Which is interesting because, putting forward guidance aside, the ACTUAL numbers weren’t all that great. In fact, the company’s trend of disappointing same-store sales continues unabated (negative 1.8%, worse than forecast). EPS and revenue numbers were slightly better and slightly worse, respectively, than expected. Which means that to drive the higher EPS, the company must be taking costs out of the business. We have no crystal ball and this is in now way meant to be construed as investment advice, but we’re not seeing justification for a massive stock price increase (up 15% from when we wrote about it and 30% from its December 24 low).

Suffice it to say, the aforementioned investors were far from impressed. The press release kicks off with:

Magnitude of value destruction necessitates wholesale board and leadership changes. CEO Steven Temares has overseen the destruction of more than $8 billion in market value over his 15-year tenure, with total shareholder returns of negative 58%. Since early 2015, the stock has lost over 80% of its value.

Certainly not mincing words there, that’s for sure.

It then follows with:

Failed retail execution and strategy. Apparent inability to prioritize a long list of poorly implemented initiatives and management’s lack of success in adapting its business model to a changing retail landscape, has resulted in stagnant sales and adjusted EBITDA margins declining from 18% in fiscal 2012 to 7% in the last 12-month period ending November 2018.

Deeply entrenched board lacking retail experience is an impediment to serving shareholder interests. Average director tenure is approximately 19 years and the lack of retail expertise and stale perspectives on the board have hindered proper oversight of the management team.

We mean…those are just cold. Hard. Facts. And they’re not wrong about the board: it strains credulity to think that the Head of the TIAA Institute, a pensioned partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, and an EVP for Verizon Communications Inc. know f*ck all about the travails afflicting retail these days (to be fair: it seems the founder and CEO of Red Antler, a reputable branding agency that has helped build the likes of Casper, Keeps, Boxed, Google, allbirds and Birchbox makes sense…if anything has value here…and, yes, we’re REALLY stretching here…its the, gulp, brand…like, maybe??…or, like, maybe not???).

Seriously, it’s not really difficult to argue with this (even if the investors take some liberties in defining companies like Restoration Hardware ($RH) as “retail peers”):

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Problematically, however, the three firms own merely 5% of the outstanding common stock so there’s not a ton that they can do to agitate for change. The market, though, doesn’t seem to give a sh*t: it just wants something…anything…to happen with this business.

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More significantly, investors simply cannot sit on the sidelines anymore and watch retail management teams flail in the wind. We discussed certain management teams that really seem to be skating to where the puck is going, see, e.g., $PLCE. But many others aren’t and those that aren’t act at their own peril. Here, at least, investors are putting management and the board of directors on notice.

Expect to see other investors act similarly in other cases.

*There are a number of malls, however, that do seem to be continuing business as usual. This piece makes the point that apocalypse is not as bad as the media makes out.

Disruption is Afoot in the Auto Space (Short Syncreon)

Rod Lache, Managing Director of Wolfe Research and Institutional Investor’s #1 ranked auto analyst every year since 2012 puts it bluntly: “The automotive landscape will change dramatically over the next five or 10 years.” Recode’s Kara Swisher asks, will owning a car “[b]e as quaint as owning a horse” one day?

We’ve been talking about a coming wave of auto disruption and distress since our inception. Here we discussed the cascading effects of EVs (“Removing the engine and transmission destabilizes the car industry and its suppliers” h/t Benedict Evans); here, using the case of GST AutoLeather Inc., we declared, “Disruption, illustrated”; and here, in October 2017, we asked “Is Another Wave of Auto-Related Bankruptcy Around the Corner?” Ok, fine, “around the corner” is open to interpretation. ……

One company that garnered our attention provides services on both sides of the border: Auburn Hills-based Syncreon Group BV is a specialized contract logistics company focused specifically on tech and auto supply chains with locations scattered throughout the US and Canada, including Detroit and just over the border in Windsor. Major clients include FCAU, Ford Motor Company ($F)General Motors Inc. ($GM)Volkswagen Group ($VWAGY), and many others (e.g., Harley Davidson Inc. ($HOG)Audi AG ($AUDVF)BMW ($BMWYY), etc.). The company is at risk.

Exemplifying this risk are some recent events:

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Cracks in Malls Grow Deeper (Long Thanos, Short CMBS)

Retail Carnage Continues Unabated (R.I.P. Payless, Gymboree, Charlotte Russe & Shopko)

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Talk of retail’s demise is so pervasive that the casual consumer may be immune to it at this point. Yeah, yeah, stores are closing and e-commerce is taking a greater share of the retail pie but what of it?

Well, it just keeps getting worse.

Consider 2019 alone. The Payless ShoeSourceGymboreeCharlotte Russe, Shopko, and Samuels Jewelers* liquidations constitute thousands of stores evaporated from existence. It’s like Thanos came to Earth and snapped his fingers and — POOF! — a good portion of America’s sh*tty unnecessary retail dissipated into dust. Tack on bankruptcy-related closures for Things RememberedBeauty Brands and Diesel Brands USA Inc. and you’re up to over 4,300 stores that have peaced out.

That, suffice it to say, would be horrific enough on its own. But “healthy” (read: non-bankrupt) retailers have only added to the #retailapocalypse. Newell Brands Inc. ($NWL)is closing 100 of its Yankee Candle locations to focus on “more profitable” distribution channels. Gap Inc. ($GPS) announced it is closing 230 of its more unprofitable locations and spinning Old Navy out into its own separate company — the good ol’ “good retail, bad retail” spinoff. Chico’s FAS Inc. ($CHS) is closing 250 stores. Stage Stores Inc. ($SSI) — which purchased once-bankruptcy Gordmans — is closing between 40-60 department stores. Kitchen Collection ($HBB) is closing 25-30 stores. E.L.F. Beauty ($ELF) is closing all 22 of its locations. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. ($ANF)? Yup, closing stores. Up to 40 of them. GNC Inc. ($GNC) intends to close hundreds more stores over the next three years. Foot Locker Inc. ($FL)? Despite a strong earnings report, it is closing a net 85 stores. J.C. Penney Inc. ($JCP)…well…it didn’t report strong earnings and, not-so-shockingly, it, too, is closing approximately 27 stores this year. Victoria’s Secret ($LB)? 53 stores. Signet Jewelers Ltd. ($SIG)? Mmmm hmmm…it’s been closing its Zales and Kay Jewelers stores for years and will continue to do so. As we noted on SundayThe Children’s Place Inc. ($PLCE) also intends to close 40-45 stores this year. Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc. ($BBW) will close 30 stores over the next two years. Ascena Retail Group Inc. ($ASNA) recently reported and disclosed that it had closed 110 stores (2% of its MASSIVE footprint) in the last quarter. Even the creepy-a$$ dolls at American Girl aren’t moving off the shelves fast enough: Mattel Inc. ($MAT) indicated that it needs to rationalize its retail footprint. There’s nothing Wonder Woman — or even a nightmare-inducing American Girl version of Wonder Woman — can do to prevent all of this carnage.

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As a cherry on top, EVEN FRIKKEN AMAZON INC. ($AMZN) IS CLOSING ALL 87 OF ITS POP-UP SHOPS! Alas, The Financial Times pinned the total store closure number for 2019 alone at 4,800 stores (and just wait until Pier 1 hits). Attached to that, of course, is job loss at a pretty solid clip:

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All of this begs the question: if there are so many store closures, are the landlords feeling it?

In part, surprisingly, the number appears to be ‘no.’ Per the FT:

“Investors in mall debt have also shown little sign of worry. The so-called CMBX 6 index — which tracks the performance of securitised commercial property loans with a concentration in retail — is up 4.4 per cent for 2019.”

Yet, in pockets, the answer also appears to be increasingly ‘maybe?’

For example, take a look at CBL & Associates Properties Inc. ($CBL) — a REIT that has exposure to a number of the names delineated above.

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On its February 8th earnings call, the company stated:

“We are pleased to deliver results in line with expectations set forth at the beginning of the year notwithstanding the challenges that materialized.”

Translation: “we are pleased to merely fall in line with rock bottom expectations given all of the challenges that materialized and could have made sh*t FAR FAR WORSE.

The company reported a 4.4% net operating income decline for the quarter and a 6% same-center net operating income decline for the year. The company is performing triage and eliminating short-term pressure: it secured a new $1.185b ‘23 secured revolver and term loan with 16 banks as part of the syndicate (nothing like spreading the risk) to refinance out unsecured debt (encumbering the majority of its ‘A Mall’ properties and priming the rest of its capital structure in the process); it completed $100mm of gross dispositions plus another $160mm in “sales” of its Cary Towne Center and Acadiana Mall; it reduced its dividend (which, for investors in REITs, is a huge slap in the face); and it also engaged in “effective management of expenses” which means that they’re taking costs out of the business to make the bottom line look prettier.

Given the current state of affairs, triage should continue to remain a focus:

“Between the bankruptcy filings of Bon-Ton and Sears, we have more than 40 anchor closures.”

“…rent loss from anchor closures as well as rent reductions and store closures related to bankrupt or struggling shop tenants is having a significant near-term impact to our income stream.”

They went on further to say:

“Bankruptcy-related store closures impacted fourth quarter mall occupancy by approximately 70 basis points or 128,000 square feet. Occupancy for the first quarter will be impacted by a few recent bankruptcy filings. Gymboree announced liquidation of their namesake brand and Crazy 8 stores. We have approximately 45 locations with 106,000 square feet closing.”

Wait. It keeps going:

We also have 13 Charlotte Russe stores that will close as part of their filing earlier this month, representing 82,000 square feet.

Earlier this week, Things Remembered filed. We anticipate closing most of their 32 locations in our portfolio comprising approximately 39,000 square feet.”

And yet occupancy is rising. The quality of the occupancy, however — on an average rental basis — is on the decline. The company indicated that new and renewal leases averaged a rent decline of 9.1%. With respect to this, the company states:

As we've seen throughout the years, certain retailers with persistent sales declines have pressured renewal spreads. We had 17 Ascena deals and 2 deals with Express this quarter that contributed 550 basis points to the overall decline on renewal leases. We anticipate negative spreads in the near term but are optimistic that the positive sales trends in 2018 will lead to improved lease negotiations with this year.

Ahhhhh…more misplaced optimism in retail (callback to this bit about Leslie Wexner). As a counter-balance, however, there is some level of realism at play here: the company reserved $15mm for losses due to store closures and co-tenancy effects on company NOI. In the meantime, it is filling in empty space with amusement attractions (e.g., Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc. ($PLAY), movie theaters, Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc ($DKS) locations, restaurants, office space and hotels. Sh*t…given the amount of specialty movie theaters allegedly going into all of these emptying malls, America is going to need all of those additional gyms to work off that popcorn (and diabetes). Get ready for those future First Day Declarations that delineate that, per capita, America is over-gym’d and over-theatered. It’s coming: it stretches credulity that the solution to every emptying mall is Equinox and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. ($AMC). But we digress.

All of these factors — the average rent decline, the empty square footage, etc. — are especially relevant considering the company’s capital structure and could, ultimately, challenge compliance with debt covenants. Net debt-to-EBITDA was 7.3x compared with 6.7x at year-end 2017. Here is the capital structure and the respective market prices (as of March 19):

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The new Senior secured term loan due ‘23:

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The Senior unsecured notes due ‘23:

CBL Unsecured Notes.png

The notes due ‘24:

CBL 24s.png

The notes due ‘26:

CBL 26s.png

Additionally, the company is trying to promote how flexible it is with its ability to pay down debt and invest in redevelopment properties. Here is a snippet of the company presentation that displays the debt covenants on its revolver, term loan and other unsecured recourse debt:

CBL Balance Sheet.png

What is the real value of the mall assets that are left unencumbered? Recently, the Company has been slowly impairing a number of its assets and many of the Company’s tier 2 and 3 malls have yet to be revalued. If appraisers lower the value of these assets that are really supposed to be supporting the debt, what then?

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the co-tenancy clauses. As anchor tenants fall like flies, you’ll potentially see a rush to the exits as retailers with four-wall sales that don’t justify rents (and rising wages) exercise their rights.

So, given all of above, does the market share management’s (misplaced) optimism?

J.P. Morgan’s Michael W. Mueller wrote in a February 7, 2019 equity research report:

"While commentary in the earnings release noted some sequential improvement in 4Q results, we still see it being a grind for the company over the near to intermediate term."

BTIG’s James Sullivan added on February 20, 2019:

"We see no near-term solution for the owners of more marginal “B” assets like CBL & Associates. Sales productivity for such portfolios has shown little growth over the last eight quarters in contrast to the better-positioned “A” portfolios."

"The recent re-financing provides CBL with some near-term liquidity but limits future access to the mortgage market as only a small number of readily “bankable” assets remain unencumbered."

“We expect the challenging conditions in the industry to continue to create pressure on the operating metrics of mall portfolios with average sales productivity of less than $400/foot. More anchor closures are likely and in-line tenants are also likely to manage their brick-and-mortar exposure aggressively and close marginal locations. We reiterate our Sell rating and $2 price target.”

“With overall flat sales productivity in the portfolio, there is limited evidence that a turnaround in performance is likely in the next 24 months. Instead, we expect continued declines in SSNOI with negative leasing spreads and lower operating cost recovery rates.”

“CBL’s new facility which totals $1.185B is secured and replaces a series of unsecured term loans and a line of credit. Collateral includes 20 assets, of which three are Tier 1 Malls, 14 are Tier 2 Malls, and three are Associated Centers. As a result, CBL now has a much smaller number of unencumbered malls.”

“There are no unencumbered Tier 1 Malls (Sales exceeding $375/foot). There are nine unencumbered Tier 2 Malls (sales $300 -$375/foot) and those malls averaged $337/foot in 2017. The 2018 data is not available yet, but sales/foot for Tier 2 assets in 2018 declined by an average $5/foot. So assuming the law of averages applies, the average productivity of the unencumbered Tier 2 assets is $332/foot. Malls with that level of productivity cannot be financed in the CMBS market per CBL management.”

“With limited access to financing using their unencumbered malls, CBL has to look to its available capacity on its new line of credit, $265m, and projected free cash flow after paying its dividends, we estimate, of $155m in 2019 and $135m in 2020. CBL is currently estimating an annual capital requirement of $75m - $125m to redevelop closed anchor boxes. The per box range is $7m - $10m which we believe is low compared to peers whose cost per unit is closer to $17m. So CBL faces dwindling capital sources at the same time that its portfolio is suffering significant quarterly drops in SSNOI.”

Apropos, the shorts are getting aggressive on the name:

The historical stock chart is ugly AF:

CBL Stock.png

Which brings us to commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) — derivative instruments comprised of loans on commercial properties. Canyon Partners’ Co-Chairman and co-CEO Joshua Friedman is shorting the sh*t out of mall-focused CMBS (containing among many other things, CBL properties) via a well known CDS index: the Markit CMBX.BBB- (and lower Indices) — to the tune of approximately $1b (out of $25b AUM). This is the mall-equivalent of the big short, except for commercial real estate. 🤔🤔

Here is a CMBX primer for anyone who wants to nerd out to the extreme. Choice bit:

CMBX allows investors to short CMBS credit risk across a wide array of vintages and credit ratings. Shorting individual cash bonds is difficult and rarely done, with the exception of a few very liquid names. The market for cusip level CMBS CDS used to exist, but the liquidity proved very poor and it was quickly replaced by trading of the synthetic indices.

And here is some color on what Mr. Friedman said regarding his trade:

CBL Canyon Partners.png

Wowzers. Just imagine what happens to retail — including the malls — when the noise gets even louder.

*Samuels Jewelers filed chapter 11 last year but announced liquidation this year after failing to secure a buyer for its assets.

The Sporting Goods Space Takes it in the Groin ($DKS)

Short Bricks, D*cks and Mortar

that hurt.gif

In “The Fallacy of "There Must be One" Theory,” we questioned whether Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. ($DKS) has a reason to exist. The stock was trading at $34.92/share at that point and has largely been on the slow-roll rise ever since, reaching as high as $39.38/share in late February. It reported earnings on Tuesday and, suffice it to say, it ain’t pushing $40 anymore:

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👜Retail May Get Marie Kondo'd👜

👠Marie Kondo is Coming to a First Day Declaration Near You (Long Thrift Shopping)👠

2019 has already been a rough year for retailBeauty Brands LLC, a Kansas City-based brick-and-mortar retailer with 58 stores in 12 states filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the first week of January. Then, last week, both Shopko (367 stores) and Gymboree (~900 stores) filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy — the former hoping to avoid a full liquidation and the latter giving up hope and heading straight into liquidation (it blew its first chance in bankruptcy). And, of course, there’s still Charlotte RusseThings RememberedPayless and others to keep an eye on.

All of this has everyone on high alert. Take this piece from The Wall Street Journal. Pertaining to J.C. Penney ($JCP) and Sears Holding Corporation ($SHLDQ), the WSJ notes:

J.C. Penney Co.’s sales are falling, its stores are stuck in malls and the turnaround strategy keeps changing. Now, three months after the embattled retailer hired a new chief executive, a handful of senior positions remain vacant.

The series of events is prompting analysts and other industry experts to question whether Penney can avoid the fate of fellow department-store operator Sears Holdings Corp., which filed for bankruptcy and barely staved off liquidation.

The Plano, Texas-based chain was once the go-to apparel retailer for middle-class families. It and Sears had once dominated American retailing but lost their customers, first to discounters like Walmart , then to fast-fashion retailers and off-price chains like T.J. Maxx. The shift to online shopping hastened their decline.

First, the Sears Holding Corporation ($SHLDQ) drama continues as the company heads towards a contested sale hearing in the beginning of February. To say that it “staved off liquidation” is, at this juncture, factually incorrect. While the company’s prospects have improved along with Mr. Lampert’s purchase offer, it is not a certainty that the company will be able to avoid liquidation. At least not until the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors’ objection is overruled and the bankruptcy court judge blesses the Lampert deal. The sale hearing is slated for February 4.

Second, we were relieved to FINALLY see an article about retail that didn’t pin the blame solely at the feet of Amazon Inc. ($AMZN). As we’ve been arguing since our inception, the narrative is far more nuanced than just the “Amazon Effect.” To point, Vitaliy Katsenelson recently wrote in Barron’s:

Retail stocks have been annihilated recently, even though retail sales finished 2018 strong. The fundamentals of the retail business look horrible: Sales are stagnating, and profitability is getting worse with every passing quarter.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com get most of the blame, but this is only part of the story. Today, online sales represent only 8.5% of total retail sales. Amazon, at about $100 billion in sales, accounts only for 1.6% of total U.S. retail sales, which at the end of 2018 were around $6 trillion. In truth, the confluence of a half-dozen unrelated developments is responsible for weak retail sales.

He goes on to cite a shift in consumer spending to more expensive phones, more expensive phone bills, more expensive student loan bills and more expensive health care costs as contributors to retail’s general malaise (PETITION Note: yes, it appears that lots of things are getting more expensive. Don’t tell the FED.). More money spent there means less discretionary income for the likes of J.C. Penney. Likewise, he highlights the change in consumer habits. He writes:

We may not care about clothes as much as we may have 10 or 20 years ago. After all, our high-tech billionaires wear hoodies and flip-flops to work. Lack of fashion sense did not hinder their success, so why should the rest of us care about the dress code?

And:

Consumer habits have slowly changed, including the advent of rental clothes from companies like Rent the Runway and LeTote.

We’ve previously written extensively about the rental and resale wave. We wrote:

Indeed, per ThredUp, a second-hand apparel website, the resale market is on pace to reach $41 billion by 2022 and 49% of that is in apparel. Moreover, resale is growing 24x more than overall apparel retail. “[O]ne in three women shopped secondhand last year.” 40% of 18-24 year olds shopped retail in 2017. Those stats are bananas. This comment is illustrative of the transformation taking hold today,

“The modern consumer now has a choice between shopping traditional retail or trying new, innovative business models. New apparel experiences and brands are emerging at record rates to replace old ones. Rental, subscription, resale, direct-to-consumer, and more. The closet of the future is going to look very different from the closet of today. When you get that perfectly curated assortment from Stitch Fix, or subscribe to Rent the Runway’s everyday service, or find that killer handbag on thredUP you never could have afforded new, you start realizing how much your preferences and behavior is changing.”

Lots of good charts here to bolster the point.

That wave just got a significant shot of steroids.

Earlier this month Netflix Inc. ($NFLX) debuted “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” a show that springs off of Ms. Kondo’s hit 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” The news since is not too encouraging for retailers.

Per NPR, “Thrift Stores Say They’re Swamped With Donations After ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’” (audio and audio transcript). Indeed, thrift stores like Goodwill are seeing an uptick in donations across the country (and Canada). The Wall Street Journal published a full feature predicated upon “throw a lot of sh*t out.”

Of course, all of this decluttering is an opportunity. Anna Silman writes in The Cut:

Well, congrats to all the people who have committed to the KonMari life and ridded themselves of the burden of their unwanted possessions, and who now have to waste 15 minutes a day folding their underwear into tiny rectangles. But also, good for us! Imagine how many bad choices people are liable to make in a feverish post New Year’s Kondo-inspired purge? Mistakes will be made. Purgers are going to see that lavish fur cape they never wore and deem it impractical; come Game of Thrones finale cosplay time, they’re going to rue their hastiness. Conscientious closet cleaners will dispose of the low-rise jeans they haven’t worn since the mid-aughts, but the joke’s on them, because low-rise jeans are coming back, bitches!

So, my fellow anti-Kondoers, if you’re in a post-holiday shopping mood, get thee to thy nearest second-hand clothing store Beacon’s (or Goodwill, or Buffalo Exchange, or Crossroads, or the internet) and get started on building your 2019 wardrobe. And if you arrive at your nearest resale outlet and see a long line, don’t worry: Those people are there to sell. Those aren’t your people. Forget them. Focus on the racks — those sweet, newly stocked, overflowing racks, where so much joy awaits.

It’s just like the old adage: One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, especially because most of it was never trash to begin with.

Likewise, Lia Beck writes in Bustle, “…get out there and find some things that spark joy for you.

And reseller The RealReal is signaling that resale is so big that it’s ready to IPO. Talk about opportunistic. No better time to do this than during Kondo-mania. The company has raised $115mm in venture capital from Perella Weinberg PartnersSandbridge Capital and Great Hill Partners, most recently at a $745mm valuation.

None of this is a positive for the likes of J.C. Penney. They need consumers to consume and clutter. Not declutter. Not go resale shopping. We can’t wait to see who is first to mention Marie Kondo as a headwind in a quarterly earnings report. Similarly, we wonder how long until we see a Marie Kondo mention in a chapter 11 “First Day Declaration.” 🤔

☠️R.I.P. Sears (Finally)?☠️

Sears, Malls & Shorting the "End of the #Retailapocalypse" Narrative (Short Karl).

It’s official: the media apparently cares more about Sears Holding Corp. ($SHLD) than consumers do. Sure, it’s a public company and so “investors” may also care but, no offense, if you’re still holding SHLD stock than you probably shouldn’t be investing in anything other than passive index funds. If anything at all (not investment advice).

Anyway, the internet is replete with commentary about what went wrong, what the bigbox retailer did and didn’t do right, what plans may not have ever existed, what could have happened and what’s going to happen (video). It didn’t build an online brand OR invest in stores! It was mismanaged! Choice bit:

Ted Nelson, CEO and strategy director at Mechanica, agreed that financial management played a big role. He believes the story of Sears and its downfall isn’t a brand story at all. “[It’s one of] financial engineering and hedge-fund manager hubris gone awry,” he said. “There are a lot of places that brand [and collection of owned brands] could have evolved to. But that would have required a savvy, cross-functional and empowered leadership team, which isn’t what Sears got.”

Oh my! It’s such a shame that Sears may liquidate!

Meetings with lenders only lasted one hour!

Maybe it will get itself a DIP credit facility and last through Christmas! Either way, it is likely to immediately shutter up to 150 locations! This is all such a shame! Look at what it used to be!

From Bloomberg:

“The handwriting has been on the wall for years,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce, a marketing consultancy. “It’s been like watching an accident. You can’t look away, but you know it’s coming.”

Right. We’re over it. We honestly could not care less about Sears at this point. Bankruptcy professionals will make money and this thing finally…FINALLY…may get the burial it deserves. Like we previously said, “This thing is like ‘Karl’ in Die Hard.” Even Karl did, eventually, die.

That all said, we do care about how Sears’ demise affects malls.

First, a bit about malls generally…

On October 7, AxiosFelix Salmon wrote “Retailpocalypse Not,” and highlighted a Q2 2018 retail report from CBRE, concluding “The death of shopping malls is exaggerated: They are currently 94% occupied, according to CBRE.” Yet, he missed key parts of CBRE’s report:

Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 11.15.19 AM.png

And mall rents are on the decline:

Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 11.26.21 AM.png

Other reports substantiate these trends. Per RetailDive:

It's still not a pretty picture on the ground, however. Second quarter mall rents fell 4.6% from the first quarter and 7.1% year over year, hit by major store closures from Toys R Us, Sears and J.C. Penney, according to a trend report from commercial real estate firm JLL. Mall vacancy rates hit 4% during the period, JLL said. The retail sector suffered its worst quarter in nine years with net absorption of negative 3.8 million square feet, which pushed the regional mall vacancy rate up by 0.2% to 8.6% as the average mall rent increased 0.3%, according to another report from commercial real estate firm Reis emailed to Retail Dive.

And things have gotten worse since then. On October 3, four days before the Axios piece, The Wall Street Journal reported on Q3 numbers:

Mall vacancy rates rose to 9.1% in the third quarter, their highest level in seven years. Many of the older shopping centers that lack trendy retailers, lively restaurants, or other forms of popular entertainment continue to lose tenants, or even close down.

But many lower-end malls are still struggling to benefit from the economic revival, especially in some of the more economically depressed areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. They suffer from a glut of shopping centers but not enough consumers.

The average rent for malls fell 0.3% to $43.25 a square foot in the third quarter, down from $43.36 in the second quarter, according to data from real-estate research firm Reis Inc. The last time rents slid on a quarter-over-quarter basis was in 2011.

What sparked the vacancy jump? Bankrupted Bon-Ton Stores closing and, gulp, Sears closures too. Which, obviously, could get a hell of a lot worse. Indeed, Cowen and Company recently concluded that “we are only in the ‘early innings’ of mass store closures.” As noted in Business Insider:

"Retail square footage per capita in the United States has been widely sourced and cited as being far above most developed countries — more than double Australia and over four times that of the United Kingdom," Cowen analysts wrote in a 50-page report on the state of the retail industry. The data "suggests that the sector remains in the early innings of reduction in unproductive physical retail."

On point, one category that had largely remained (relatively) unscathed in the last 2 years of retail carnage is the home goods space. But, now, companies like Pier 1 Imports Inc. ($PIR) and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. ($BBBY) appear to be in horrific shape. Bloomberg’s Sarah Halzack writes:

Two major companies in this category, Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. and Pier 1 Imports Inc., are mired in problems that look increasingly unsolvable. Bed Bath & Beyond saw its shares tumble 21 percent on Thursday after it reported declining comparable sales for the ninth time in 10 quarters. And Pier 1’s stock fell nearly 20 percent in a single day last week after it saw an even ghastlier plunge in same-store sales and discontinued its full-year guidance.

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The struggles of those two retailers ought to compound problems in the overall retail environment. Pier 1 has 1000 stores. Bed Bath & Beyond has 1024 stores.

Still, not all malls are created equal.

Barron’s writes:

Sears’ poor performance has long been an issue for owners, but landlords are split between those that are probably cheering the possibility of reclaiming its locations for more profitable tenants and those that see its potential bankruptcy as a negative tipping point.

Wells Fargo’s Jeffrey Donnelly compiled a list of REIT exposure to Sears, ranking various REITs by how much revenue exposure there is to Sears.

Seritage Growth Properties (SRG) is at the top of the list, with 167 properties, or 72% of its space and 43% percent of its revenue. Urban Edge (UE) has four properties for 3.5% of space and 4.2% of revenue. Next comes Washington Prime Group (WPG) with 42 locations, or 9.8% of space and 0.9% of revenue, followed by CBL & Associates(CBL) with 40 properties, a negligible amount of its space and 0.8% of revenue. Brixmor (BRX) has 11 locations for 1.4% of its space and 0.6% of revenue, Kimco (KIM) has 14 locations, 1.9% of its space and 0.6% of revenue. Simon Property Group (SPG) is at the bottom of the list with 59 locations, 5.3% of its space, and 0.3% of revenue.

Among the companies he covers, he says, CBL & Associates is the most at risk because the “low productivity and demographics of its mall portfolio could make re-leasing challenging and extended vacancies could trigger co-tenancy.” By contrast, Macerich (MAC) is the best positioned, Donnelly argues, due to its “negligible exposure and industry-leading productivity of [its] portfolio.”

Here (video) is Starwood Capital Group ($STWD) CEO Barry Sternlicht opining on the demise of Sears. He says about Sears filing:

“Probably a net positive. So, in our malls that we own…the income that comes near the Sears store is 3% of the mall’s income. Nobody wants to be in front of the Sears because there’s nobody in the Sears. So, we take it back and make it an apartment building or a Dave & Busters or a Kidzania or…a theater…so honestly its good for the owners to get on with this…and we’ll see what happens with Penney’s too….”

In “Sears Exit Would Leave Big Holes in Malls. Some Landlords Welcome That,” The Wall Street Journal noted:

Mall owners with trendy retailers, lively restaurants and other forms of popular entertainment have continued to prosper. Many of these landlords would welcome Sears’ departure, mall owners and analysts said. The department store’s exit would allow them to take over a big-box space and lease it to a more profitable tenant.

In malls where leases were signed decades ago, Sears rents could be as low as $4 a square foot. New tenants in the same space could bring as much as six times that amount.

Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 12.05.55 PM.png

J.C. Penney ($JCP) and Best Buy ($BBBY) are other theoretical beneficiaries (though that would STILL require people to go to malls).

Who is not benefiting? Apparently those hedge funds that famously shorted malls.

Looks like Sears won’t be the last loser playing in the mall space.

💤Sears 💤

Eddie Lampert, ESL & Shenanigans

BREAKING NEWS: SHORT SEARS HOLDING CORP.

We’re old enough to remember when Sears Holding Corp. ($SHLD) was last rumored to file for bankruptcy. In 2017. 2016. 2015. 2014. 2013. 2012. 2011. And 2010 (the last year it turned a profit). This thing is like “Karl” in Die Hard.

Or this lady:

It just won’t die.

So this week’s reports that Sears’ CEO Eddie Lampert “Urges Immediate Action to Stave Off Bankruptcy” were met with, shall we say, a collective yawn. Lampert has been performing financial sleight-of-hand for years, all the while the five-year SHLD stock chart looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 9.49.32 PM.png

This is what the Twitterati had to say about this: [ ].

Yes, that blank space is intentional. We’ve never seen Twitter so quiet. Grandma was like, “Sears? Sears? I last shopped in Sears when I was prom shopping…in 1956.” Mom was like, “I once bought you a Barbie at Sears…in 1989.” Some millennial somewhere was probably like, “Sears? What’s a Sears, brah?”

Just kidding: nobody is talking about Sears. That would imply mindshare. 🔥

Lack of mindshare notwithstanding, the company, despite a wave of closures over the years (including 46 unprofitable stores slated for closure in November ‘18), consists of 820 stores (including KMart). As of 2017, the company had 140,000 employees. Thats Toys R Usx 4.5. The company also has approximately $5.5 billion of debt, $1.1 billion of pension and post-retirement benefits, declining revenues, negative (yet improving) same store sales percentages, negative gross margin, and increasing net losses.

Source: SHLD Q2 Earnings Release Presentation, September 13, 2018

Source: SHLD Q2 Earnings Release Presentation, September 13, 2018

It also had $941mm of cash available as of the end of Q2 2018.

On Sunday, Lampert filed a Schedule 13D with the SEC outlining his proposal to save Sears in advance of a $134 debt payment due on October 15. High level, the proposal was…

“…to the Board requesting Holdings to consider liability management transactions, real estate transactions and asset sales intended to extend near-term debt maturities, reduce long-term debt, eliminate associated cash interest obligations and obtain additional liquidity.”

The proposed liability management transactions…provide for exchange offers to eligible holders of second lien debt…and eligible holders of unsecured debt…. These potential exchange offers together could save Holdings approximately $33 million per year in cash interest and eliminate approximately $1.1 billion in debt.

More specifically, the proposal calls for, among other options, ‘19 and ‘20 second lien debtholders and ‘19 unsecured noteholders to swap into zero-coupon mandatorily convertible secured debt (no yield, baby?)(read the 13D link above for more detail). It also calls for the sale of $3.25 billion worth of real estate and assets, including Sears Home Services and Kenmore.

After all of this time, why now? Per Bloomberg:

Lampert and ESL acted after watching other retailers including Toys “R” Us Inc. and Bon-Ton Stores Inc. wind up in liquidation, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The aim is to get something done out of court to preserve value for shareholders, since they don’t usually fare well in bankruptcy proceedings, said the people, who weren’t authorized to comment publicly and asked not to be identified.

There’s something strangely poetic about Lampert and ESL using the ghosts of Toys R Us and BonTon past to coerce creditors into an exchange transaction now.

Anyway, Twitter may have been quiet, but naysayers abound.

From Bloomberg:

“It seems the next natural iteration of all the financial engineering the company has been engaging in over the last few years,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Noel Hebert said. “For non-bank creditors not named Eddie Lampert, there is a bit of prisoner’s dilemma -- maybe something more tomorrow, or the near certainty of very little today.”

“This is simply storing up trouble for the future,” according to a note from Neil Saunders, managing director of research firm GlobalData Retail. “Sears is focusing on financial maneuvers and missing the wider point that sales remain on a downward trajectory,” he wrote. “Even in a strong consumer economy, customers are still drifting away to other brands and retailers.”

From the Washington Post:

“Eddie Lampert is seeking permission from himself to keep Sears on life-support while he continues to drain every last remaining drop of blood from its corpse,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School and the former chief executive of Sears Canada. “The operation is a failure, and there is no plan to turn that around."

From the Wall Street Journal:

“Given Lampert’s shuffling of Sears assets in ways some creditors suspect was more to his benefit than theirs, there is a chance they will hesitate to let him reorganize unless it is under the watchful eye of a bankruptcy judge,” said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business school professor.

Ugh. Wake us up when its finally over. Even Karl eventually died.


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🚴 Peloton = Gympocalypse? 🚴

The Rise of Peloton, Tonal, Mirror and Other DTC Home Fitness Products (Long Seclusion)

Source: Mirror

Source: Mirror

Back in January we wrote a longform piece about the rise of Peloton. It’s worth revisiting. Subsequently, the at-home fitness space has only gotten more interesting with (i) Peloton’s soon-to-be-released treadmill and (ii) a couple more well-funded startups going after the gym crowd with high-priced at-home apparatuses that give one further incentive to just stay home, never talk to anyone and never do anything outside. Because that's just what we need in today's hyper-polarized environment: more people just scurrying off into their own corners and refusing to deal with and compromise with anyone or anything. And that apparently includes the use of gym equipment.

The New York TimesErin Griffith recently wrote that Tonal and Mirror, two new on-the-wall connected fitness platforms, are…

"…among the first start-ups to pounce on the success of Peloton, a stationary bike start-up that investors recently valued at $4 billion. Peloton blends the hardware of a bike with the software of a video streaming subscription and the content of spin classes. Its skyrocketing growth has made investors wary of missing the next big thing in fitness." 

The next big thing in fitness appears to be a flashy screen, a solid wifi connection, expensive hardware and streaming fitness instruction brought to you by a recurring revenue subscription model. 

Web Smith frames it another way

He writes:

Silicon Valley wants to redefine the fitness membership. Through the adoption of connected devices like the Peloton bike, there’s been an inflection point as consumers seem to be trickling away from the current model. No longer do you have to drive to a place to be in a community. As Americans become more health conscious and driven to maximize performance, the DTC equipment industry is a timely bet on the next generation of  fitness data-driven IoT (internet of things).

He continues:

Whereas the Fitbit-phase of wearables emphasized individual fitness, the next generation of connected devices seem to be incorporating community in ways that could emerge as a challenge to the status quo: community-driven fitness facilities.

And:

By building systems that allow community to be gained outside of physical retail outlets, these tools are aiming to become the new medium for instruction and training.  These internet-enabled equipment manufacturers aren’t just selling plastic and metal, they’re selling virtual community.

He finished by saying:

"...it could spell trouble for your gym. Spin franchises are already beginning to adjust to the threat of Peloton and as the threat of connected cycles continues to grow as also-has brands rise up in the wake of Peloton’s premium pricing."

That sound you may have just heard was the collective moan of mall owners who are increasingly dependent upon gyms to fill space:

Okay, okay, let's dial it down. Peloton has created a luxury brand experience that, it is argued, makes economic sense relative to the long-term economics of attending Flywheel or SoulCycle classes. We're not so sure that translates to other non-niche forms of fitness. Especially at the price-points these companies are touting. 

Apropos, some of the comments to the NYT piece are amusing:

Obviously, these machines are for a niche market where money is irrelevant and style is paramount. Best of luck to them, but I'll stick to the free version...my own body. 

So far the comments are 22-0 against. I wonder if the Tonal can automatically adjust that resistance.

Or, you know, you could just go outside, feel the sun and wind on your back, do some pushups and chinups to feel your own weight against the pull of the Earth, hear nature all around you, talk to a person (gasp!)... 

But then again it's so nice to stare at a screen all day long, so what do I know.

Look for these items in the free piles left curbside after garage sales in about 6 years. 

While we're not necessarily convinced that Tonal and Mirror are the future of fitness, it seems to us that gyms ought to start thinking "omnichannel" like retailers and figure out way to drive more value to customers both in and outside of the gym, during on and off hours. How is it, for instance, that Equinox doesn't have any streaming classes that you can do at home or in your office? 

Whatever happens, expect the area to get more heated as more and more money chases this burgeoning at-home community-based exercise market. Bloomberg already notes that “the treadmill wars are here.” And, Peloton, for instance, is now suing Flywheel for patent infringement. It knows that the at-home fitness opportunity is now. If it can slow down a rival (in advance of an IPO?), all the better.

We asked in January whether Peloton could thrive in a downturn. Now the question is broader: will any of these companies with high-priced hardware be able to survive a downturn?

🚗Will California Jumpstart Electric Vehicles?🚗

Electric Vehicles (Short Musk-Related Noise; Long Technology)

This is not a fangirl ode to Elon Musk. We’ll leave that to the Twittersphere. The trials and tribulations of everyone’s favorite Marvel-character-inspiring eccentric billionaire may be distracting from developments far bigger and far badder than Tesla’s ($TSLA) balance sheet: the advancement of electric vehicles.

Last week, California’s state legislature approved a bill that requires the state — subject to Governor Jerry Brown’s signature — to get 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. Yes, 2045 — 27 years from now. Sure, it might be hard for you to be impressed or to care. If PETITION is even still around by then it will likely be written by artificial intelligence bots. So, we get it.

Still, California ALREADY gets 29% of its electricity from zero-carbon wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy — in part to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in part, no doubt, to flick off the President of the United States. Indeed, greenhouse gas emission levels have decreased such that they now rival those of the 1990s.

Yet, emission levels related to transportation in California have barely moved. Nevertheless, consistent with what we wrote previously about advancements in the auto space, Nathanial Bullard notes that that appears primed to change. In a piece entitled “Electric Vehicles’ Day Will Come, and It Might Come Suddenly,” he wrote:

In the first half of the year, vehicles with a battery were more than 10 percent of new vehicle sales in California. The model mix includes hybrids like the Toyota Prius that have no electric charging plugs, as well as plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars with no combustion engine at all.

The data reveal three trends. The first is the steady erosion of hybrid market share, which is down from seven percent of new sales in 2013 to four percent in the first half of 2018. That’s noteworthy, and so is the fact that battery electric vehicles are now more popular than plug-in hybrids.

In 2017, the plug-in electric car market is now more than six percent of new car sales in California. It’s not a big number — but it will get bigger, and it’s worth asking, “how much bigger?”

Looking at Norway, Bullard posits that it can get substantially bigger. He notes that:

It took Norway about a decade to reach six percent electric vehicle sales but then only five years to go from 6 percent to 47 percent. 

Is 6% some sort of magical inflection point for electric vehicles? Debatable. Norway is super-progressive when it comes to the environment; it also offers extensive incentives to encourage EV adoption. But with a statewide push towards zero-carbon electricity, a push towards zero-emission electric cars may not be far behind. Californian car sales are pushing towards 2 million in 2018. And selection is about to improve: everyone from Audito BMW to Porsche are coming out with all-electric models in the next several years. Tremendous growth may not be too far off. The OEMs — Tesla’s competitors — are making sure of it.

*****

Speaking of technological advancement in auto (and auto distress), we find Andreesen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans’ musings on the topic to be thoughtful and thought-provoking. We previously wrote about him WAY back in January 2017 when he wrote about mobile eating the world. The piece is worth revisiting.

Last week, he released a new piece with questions right up our alley. He asked:

…what happens when ‘software eats the world’ in general, and when tech moves into new industries. How do we think about whether something is disruptive? If it is, who exactly gets disrupted? And does that disruption…mean one company wins in the new world? Which one?

He seems to conclude the following: not Tesla.

One narrative surrounding Tesla in the post-Solar City acquisition world is that it more than just a car company: it’s a battery play. Musk’s powerwall feeds this narrative. SolarCity, to some degree, feeds this narrative. But Evans begs to differ; he thinks the battery — as well as EV components, generally — will become commodities. Commodities that spawn victims along the way. He notes:

It’s probably useful here to compare batteries in particular with the capacitive multitouch screens in a smartphone. Apple was the first to popularise these screens, and arguably still implements them best, and these screens fundamentally changed how you made a phone, but the whole industry adopted them. There are better and worse versions, but everyone can buy these screens now, and making a multitouch phone by itself is not a competitive advantage.

It’s pretty clear that electric disrupts the internal combustion engine, and everything associated with it. It’s not just that you replace the internal combustion engine with electric motors and the fuel tank with batteries - rather, you remove the whole drive train and replace it with sometime with 5 to 10 times fewer moving or breakable parts. You rip the spine out of the car. This is very disruptive to anyone in the engine business - it disrupts machine tools, and many of the suppliers of these components to the OEMs. A lot of the supplier base will change. 

This is not the same as disrupting the OEMs themselves. If the OEMs can buy the components of an electric car as easily as anyone else, then the advantage in efficient scale manufacturing goes to the people who already have a lead in efficient scale manufacturing, since they’re doing essentially the same thing. In other words, it’s the same business, with some different suppliers, and electric per se looks a lot more like sustaining innovation. (emphasis added) 

Likewise, he highlights how Tesla’s (i) software, (ii) data aggregation and (iii) efforts with autonomous driving may be leading now but they may not be as disruptive, in the truest sense of the term, to competitor OEMs as some might believe. That is, many OEMs are making progress of their own in those areas. The lead is not that wide. Tesla’s moat is not vast. Read the piece: he raises some interesting points — too many to note here.

He concludes:

…the history of the tech industry is full of companies where having a lovely product, or being the first to see or build the future, were not enough. Indeed, the car industry is the same - a great, innovative car and a great car company are not the same thing. Tesla owners love their cars. I loved my Palm V, and my Nokia Lumia, and my father loved his Saab 9000. But being first isn’t enough and having a great product isn’t enough - you have to try to think about how this fits into all the broader systems. 

Indeed. Many companies — many of which seem wildly successful today — will falter as that system develops.

💣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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📱Is Tech in Trouble? Part 2.📱

Short Hefty Seed Rounds

ICYMI, in “📱Is Tech in Trouble?📱,” we asked whether…well…tech was in trouble. We aren’t alone.

A few weeks ago Brad Feld of Foundry Group wrote the following in a piece entitled, “Early Stage VCs — Be Careful Out There”:

Yesterday, in one of the quarterly updates that we get, I saw the following paragraph.

“Historically, the $10 million valuation mark has been somewhat of a ceiling for seed stage startups. But so far this year, we’ve seen that a number of companies, often times with nothing more than a team and a Powerpoint presentation, have had great success raising capital north of that $10 million level. Furthermore, round sizes continue to tick up, with many seed rounds now in the $2.5 million to $4.0 million range.”

We are seeing this also and have been talking about it internally, so it prompted me to say something about it.

I view this is a significant negative indicator.

It has happened only one other time in my investing career – in 1999.

Man. There’s so much money out there looking for some action.

Read the piece. It’s short. He closes with this:

For anyone that remembers 2000-2003, this obviously ended badly. By 2002 investments at the seed level had evaporated (there were almost no seed financings happening). In 2003 the angels started to reappear (some of the best angel deals of all time were done between 2004 and 2007) and the super angel language started to be used around 2007.

All the experienced finance people I know talk regularly about cycles. If you believe in cycles, this one feels pretty predictable. Of course, there is an opportunity in every part of the cycle. But, be careful out there.

The kinds of companies he’s talking about aren’t in the same zone as those that we wrote about last week. These early stage companies are too early to have any of the characteristics (i.e., public equity, advanced IP, leases, exposed directors) that we noted might qualify a company to leap outside of the sphere of an assignment of benefit of creditors and into bankruptcy court. But still. This piece could just as easily slide into our “What to Make of the Credit Cycle” series.

To put a cherry on top, read this piece from Jason Calacanis. We typically think Mr. Calacanis is too high on his own sh*t but this cautionary letter to the founders he’s invested in is, in fact, instructive. We particularly liked his link to a Sequoia Capital presentation circa 2008. It’s a must read for anyone who wants a primer/refresher on what the hell happened back in the financial crisis and some insight into how investors thought about the time.

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The upshot: he instructs his founders to do everything they can to ensure 12-18 months of runway.

So, where are we in the credit cycle? The part where a number of folks are starting to exercise and advise a bit more caution.

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

Long Private Markets as Public Markets

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

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

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

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

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

He goes on to state some characteristics of an ABC:

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

  • There is no discharge in an ABC.

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

And some benefits of an ABC:

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

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

  • Lower admin costs;

  • Lower visibility to an ABC than a bankruptcy filing;

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

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

Asleep yet? 😴

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

ABCs also have limitations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what’s the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there are the public markets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She continued:

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

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

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


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

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

The Media is Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Long Recurring Revenue)

Magazines Are Suffering From Declining Ad Revenue

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It’s no secret that traditional advertising is in decline. Now we have some numbers to put around it. Per the WWD:

The magazine industry puts on a brave face, but data doesn’t lie.

New analysis from the Association of Magazine Media, which unabashedly pushed the power of print magazines as an advertising vehicle, shows an industry still trying to find its place in an instantaneous world while advertising revenue continues to slip away.

Reported magazine ad spending by the 50 biggest advertisers last year fell to $6.1 billion from $6.5 billion in 2016, according to AMM’s annual report. So magazines lost at least $417.5 million in revenue last year, a difference of 6.4 percent, numbers AMM did not make readily available in its report, which was sponsored by magazine printer Freeport Press.

The report notes how top advertisers spent their marketing dollars. Pfizer Inc.Johnson & JohnsonLVMH Moet Hennessy Louis VuittonEstee Lauder Cos. Inc.KeringChanel, and Amazon were all WAY down, more than offsetting increases from the likes of Proctor & Gamble and L’Oreal. As just one example, Pfizer’s spend decreased by $85mm. That’s a whopping number.

With whopping ramifications. More from the WWD:

With so much money being lost in print advertising, which is largely being diverted to other avenues, like Facebook, Google and influencers, it’s no wonder magazines keep shutting.

A total of 50 magazines with at least a quarterly publication frequency closed last year, despite 134 titles being launched, leaving the number of magazines last year at 7,176. The number of magazines has been a bit up and down over the last decade, but on the whole, down, as there are 207 fewer than in 2008.

It continued:

Overall, there are very few major magazine brands managing to pull strong through the digital shift. Of the 114 magazine brands tracked by AMM, 56 titles, or 50 percent, have a total audience in decline year-to-date. Print and digital editions are faring even worse, with 74 titles, or 64 percent of magazines, seeing audience on the decline.

Little wonder advertisers are looking elsewhere.

Apropos, a heads up for PETITION readers: you can give the media business a whirl if you masochistically desire. On August 27, the chapter 7 trustee in the case of Interview Inc., the once-famous magazine owned by Peter Brant, is conducting an auction for the sale of the media property. If bankrupted magazines aren’t your jam, there are plenty of other options available — including, most recently, New York Magazine.

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Given the decline in advertising, media companies are re-evaluating their business models and many are toggling over to subscriptions. Subscriptions are the “it” thing now. And that obviously includes PETITION (though, to be accurate, we were never dependent on ads). In fact, we now subscribe to so many different resources that our costs are going up meaningfully from month to month. That’s the truth. At a certain point, consumers may get subscription fatigue.

Or they’ll just share passwords. Per Digiday:

Subscriptions are a great way to draw a steady stream of revenue from readers — unless readers share their login credentials with everyone they know.

As publishers try to grow subscription businesses, they have to figure out how to handle password-sharing, a phenomenon that subscription services like Netflix and Spotify have wrestled with for years.

Netflix and Spotify can absorb this danger. But smaller media outlets either struggling to survive or looking to grow don’t have that luxury. Every time someone shares media that lives off of the subscription model, he/she is effectively siphoning off revenue from them and pushing them one step closer to insolvency. Sadly, only a very select few of you will make fees in that scenario. The rest of you will lose out on quality content you’ve come to love and enjoy. Now wouldn’t that be a shame?

😴Mattress Firm's Nightmare😴

Mattress Firm May File for Bankruptcy (Long Cardboard Box Manufacturers)

Source: PETITION LLC

Source: PETITION LLC

⚡️Nerd alert: we need to lay a little foundation here.⚡️

For the uninitiated, a First Day Declaration (“FDD”) typically accompanies a chapter 11 petition when a debtor-company files for bankruptcy. The FDD is the first opportunity for a representative of a chapter 11 debtor to sell a particular narrative to the Bankruptcy Judge and other parties in interest; it sets the tone for the company’s “first day hearing,” which is the first formal appearance the company makes in bankruptcy court (typically within 24-48 hours after filing for chapter 11). The FDD is a descriptive document that often spells out the what, why and when of a company’s demise. Nearly all FDDs follow the same format: they (i) provide some color about the declarant, (ii) describe the history and nature of a business, (iii) delineate the capital structure, (iv) outline the events leading to bankruptcy, (iv) articulate the hopes for the bankruptcy case, and (v) summarize the relief sought on the first day. Lawyers often request that the FDD be admitted into the record at the first day hearing (subject to cross examination of the declarant).

Frustratingly, lawyers also often seem compelled to regurgitate the FDD once at the podium at the hearing. This is typically the role of the senior most partner on the matter, i.e., the person who — as it relates to certain firms — probably knows the least about the company, why it’s in bankruptcy and how the hell its going to grind its way out of it. We’re not entirely sure why they feel the need to do this: the judge has presumably read the papers. Perhaps they feel it’s necessary to repeat the narrative to set the tone for the case and establish credibility (more important in controversial cases than in uncontested hearings); perhaps they just like hearing themselves speak; or — the most likely justification — perhaps they bill by the hour and need to justify their (a) existence, (b) exorbitantly high billing rate and/or (c) first billing on the case caption. Maybe it’s all of the above. In any event, this custom is exactly the opposite of what lawyers are taught in law school: be concise and to the point.

We often like to imagine what the FDD would look like in certain situations. Long time PETITION readers may recall our mock FDD for Remington Outdoor Company. Well, we’re at it again. This time for Mattress Firm Holding Corp. Hopefully this will spare the estate some expenses.

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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??