💰Retail Roundup (Long $FB, Long $RILY, Short Retail)💰

 
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In “Thanos Snaps, Retail Disappears“ and “Even Captain America Can’t Bring Back This Much Retail (Long Continued Closures)“ we listed out the stupendous volume of retail closures that have transpired already in 2019. As we’ve stated before, there are no signs of this trend abating. Indeed, since the second piece shipped on April 28, 2019, several more companies have announced closures.

For instance, Francesca’s announced the closure of 20 stores. Regis Corporation ($RGS), the owner of Supercutsis shedding 330 locations and, like so many other corporates, offloading risk onto unsuspecting franchisees. While its stock performance is strong, Carter’s Inc. ($CRI) closed a net 10 stores amid negative 3.7% comps. Sally Beauty Holdings Inc. ($SBH) closeda net 69 stores in the last year, primarily under its Sally Beauty Supply outlet. Outside of the conventional retail space, CVS Health Corporation ($CVS) is closing 46 locations this quarter.

One beneficiary of all of this: the liquidators. We can put some numbers around this.

Back in March, B. Riley Financial Inc. ($RILY) reported fiscal 2018 earnings. On the earnings call, the company noted the following:

Last year was also a banner year for our Great American Group retail liquidation division. We successfully completed the liquidation of the inventory assets of Bon-Ton Stores. For a sense of scale Bon-Ton was one of the largest U.S. liquidations in retail history by inventory value.

We completed the liquidation of over 200 stores with associated inventory value at approximately $2.2 billion. In 2018, we also participated in the liquidation of Toys "R" Us which contributed to our strong results in the segment. Momentum in this business is carrying forward into 2019 as a liquidation of Bon-Ton real estate assets continues to be under way and with our recently announced participation in the liquidations of Gymboree and Payless Shoes.

The Payless store closing event, which began on February 17, is the largest liquidation by store count in retail history with sales being conducted at approximately 2,100 stores and associated inventory value at over $1 billion. In January, the firm announced participation in the liquidation of 798 Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores across the U.S. and Canada.

RILY reported Q4 revenues of $10.1mm, a meaningful uptick from the $4.2mm the company reported in Q4 ‘17. Income rose from $0.1mm to $2.3mm YOY. For the year, revenues were $55mm and income was $27mm, a solid 49% margin. As for guidance, the company foreshadowed:

…momentum has already carried over into 2019. We expect to realize significant contributions from the Bon-Ton liquidation results for the first half, in addition to the results from our current involvement in Gymboree and Payless liquidations. We expect to see high levels of market activity to continue through Q2 as distressed retailers continue to focus on retail – real estate consolidation and purging excess inventory.

Last week, RILY reported Q1 ‘19 earnings and Great American Group continued to crush it. The “auction and liquidation segment” generated $20.7mm in revenue — double what it did in Q4 and more than 25% better YOY. Income increased to $11.5mm, or approximately 5x the income reported in Q4. This adds up to a margin of 55%.

Think about those numbers for a second: while retail employees are getting steam-rolled, stores are closing everywhere, malls are undeniably shaken and CMBS investors are, by necessity, vigilantly monitoring credit with a watchful eye, here is Great American Group absolutely rolling in dough on account of these retail liquidations. Great revenue, great income. Stellar margins.

Now, as we’ve discussed previously, there is an anti-competitive element in all of this. Rather than face off against one another and compress those beautiful margins, the liquidators all continue to engage in club deals for these big retailers. If the revenue, income and margin is THAT good, doesn’t that mean that debtors — and by extension, creditors thereof — are leaking a significant amount of value?🤔

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Meanwhile, the news out of Facebook Inc. ($FB) probably had the liquidators over at Great American Group licking their chops. This week, Instagram is rolling out the ability for influencers to tag specific products in their photos, enabling consumers to click a photo, see what’s for sale, and purchase that product without ever leaving the Instagram feed. For those of you with zero design sensibility, suffice it to say that this is a big deal. No more friction of going back and forth between Instagram and external check out pages. This is going to mint tons of cash by the Kardashian and other influencer-influenced faithful.

Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic writes:

Millions of users rely on influencers to sift through products and make recommendations. But until now, figuring out, for instance, exactly what shade of lipstick an influencer is wearing has been hard. Apps such as LikeToKnowIt, which allows you to shop influencers’ posts by taking screenshots, have garnered millions of users by providing a stopgap solution. Brand-specific social-shopping platforms such as H&M’s Itsapark have also stepped into the market. Still, many would-be consumers spend hours commenting on influencers’ Instagram posts asking for more product information, or fruitlessly attempting to locate a product online.

Interestingly, the influencers “won’t receive a cut of the sales their posts generate.” They will, however, get access to advanced metrics that may (or may not, as the case may be) arm them with leverage in negotiations with ad buyers. More from Lorenz:

“As an influencer, I don’t care if I don’t get a cut [of the sales] at the moment,” Song continued. “If it makes my followers’ life easier and they don’t have to message me asking ‘Where do you get that product?,’ I’m okay with doing it for free for now.” Many influencers are also betting that the increased engagement and spike in followers they’ll likely get by incorporating shoppable posts will more than pay off in the short term.

Color us skeptical. Much like the media is grappling with having a more direct relationship with its readers and that notion is pushing more and more writers to newsletters/subscriptions and away from advertising, we can’t help but to wonder how long influencers will be okay peddling other people’s products without getting a cut. With products like Shopify Inc. ($SHOP) enabling basically anyone the ability to create a direct-to-consumer business, it doesn’t stretch the imagination to conclude that a number of influencers are going to start getting into their own private label wares, if they haven’t already. It’s not like Kylie Jenner was having trouble moving product before: this gives her a shot of steroids.

What does this mean for retail? For starters, they’re going to be paying Facebook an awful lot of money out of their advertising budgets in the short term. In the longer term, however, they may find newfound competition from the likes of various Gen Z influencers that Gen X may have never even heard of. If malls are having trouble drawing traffic now, just imagine how much harder it will be when its easier for teen age Molly to just click on Instagram, scroll to her favorite influencer, and click through to some makeup without even interrupting continued scrolling. Facebook is savage.

Reminder: Nothing in this email is intended to serve as financial or legal advice. Do your own research, you lazy rascals.


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We (STILL) Have a Feasibility Problem (Long the “Two-Year Rule”)

Payless ShoeSource Files for Chapter 11. Again.

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Man. That aged poorly AF.

That’s one + two + three…yup, three total “success” claims and that’s just the heading, subheading and intro paragraph. EEESH. This has turned into the bankruptcy equivalent of Oberyn Martell taking a victory lap in the fighting pits of King’s Landing.

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And, sadly, it almost gets as cringeworthy:

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Of course, we obviously know now that the Payless story is about as ugly as Oberyn’s fate.

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Payless is back in bankruptcy court — a mere 18 months after its initial filing — adorning the dreaded Scarlet 22. It will liquidate its North American operations, shutter over 2000 stores, and terminate nearly 20k employees. All that will remain will be its joint venture interests in Latin America and its franchise business — a telltale sign that (a) the brick-and-mortar operation is an utter sh*tshow and (b) the only hope remaining is clipping royalty and franchise fee coupons on the back of the company’s supposed “brand.” And so we come back to this:

That’s right. We have ourselves another TWO YEAR RULE VIOLATION!!

Okay. We admit it. This is all a little unfair. We definitely wrote last week’s piece entitled, “💥We (Still) Have a Feasibility Problem💥,” knowing full-well — thanks to the dogged reporting of Reuters and other outlets — that a Payless Holdings LLC chapter 22 loomed around the corner to drive home our point. Much like Gymboree and DiTech before it, this chapter 22 is the culmination of an abject failure of epic proportions: indeed, nearly everything Mr. Jones stated in the press release reflected above proved to be 100% wrong.

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Let’s start, given a dearth of new financial information, with the most obvious factor here as to why this company has round-tripped into bankruptcy — destroying tons of value and irreversibly hurting retail suppliers en masse along the way. In the company’s financial projections attached to its 2017 disclosure statement, the company projected fiscal year 2018 EBITDA of $119.1mm (PETITION NOTE: we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the enduring optimism of debtor management teams who consistently offer up, and get highly-paid investment bankers to go along with, ridiculous projections that ALWAYS hockey stick up-and-to-the-right. Frankly, you could strip out the names and, in a compare and contrast exercise, see virtually no directional difference between the projected revenues of Payless and the actual revenues of Lyft. Seriously. It’s like management teams think that they’re at the helm of a high growth startup rather than a dying legacy brick-and-mortar retailer with sh*tty shoes at not-even-discounted-for-sh*ttiness prices.

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On what realistic basis on this earth did they think that suddenly — POOF! — same store sales would be nearly 10%.

Seriously. Give us whatever they’re smoking out in Topeka Kansas: sh*t must be lit. Literally.

So what did EBITDA actually come in at? Depending on which paragraph you read in the company’s First Day Declaration filed in support of the chapter 22 petition: negative $63mm or negative $66mm (it differs on different pages). For the mathematically challenged, that’s an ~$182mm delta. 🙈💩 “Outstanding leadership team,” huh? The numbers sure beg to differ.

This miss is SO large that it really begs the question: what the bloody hell transpired here? What is this dire performance attributable to? In its 2017 filing the company noted the following as major factors leading to its bankruptcy:

Since early 2015, the Debtors have experienced a top-line sales decline driven primarily by (a) a set of significant and detrimental non-recurring events, (b) foreign exchange rate volatility, and (c) challenging retail market conditions. These pressures led to the Debtors’ inability to both service their prepetition secured indebtedness and remain current with their trade obligations.

The company continued:

Specifically, a confluence of events in 2015 lowered Payless’ EBITDA by 34 percent—a level from which it has not fully recovered. In early 2015, the Debtors meaningfully over purchased inventory due to antiquated systems and processes (that have since undergone significant enhancement). Then, in February 2015, West Coast port strikes delayed the arrival of the Debtors’ products by several months, causing a major inventory flow disruption just before the important Easter selling period, leading to diminished sales. When delayed inventory arrived after that important selling period, the Debtors were saddled with a significant oversupply of spring seasonal inventory after the relevant seasonal peak, and were forced to sell merchandise at steep markdowns, which depressed margins and drained liquidity. Customers filled their closets with these deeply discounted products, which served to reduce demand; the reset of customer price expectations away from unsustainably high markdowns further depressed traffic in late 2015 and 2016. In total, millions of pairs of shoes were sold below cost in order to realign inventory and product mix. (emphasis added)

You’d think that, given these events, supply chain management would be at the top of the reorganized company’s list of things to fix. Curiously, in its latest First Day Declaration, the company says this about why it’s back in BK:

Upon emergence from the Prior Cases, the Debtors sought to capitalize on the deleveraging of their balance sheet with additional cost-reduction measures, including reviewing marketing expenses, downsizing their corporate office, reevaluating the budget for every department, and reducing their capital expenditures plan. Notwithstanding these measures, the Debtors have continued to experience a top-line sales decline driven primarily by inventory flow disruption during the 2017 holiday season, same store sales declines resulting in excess inventory, and challenging retail market conditions. (emphasis added).

Like, seriously? WTF. And it actually gets more ludicrous. In fact, the inventory story barely changed at all: the company might as well have cut and pasted from the Payless1 disclosure statement:

The Debtors also faced an oversupply of inventory in the fall of 2018 leading into the winter of 2019. As a result, the Debtors were forced to sell merchandise at steep markdowns, which depressed margins and drained liquidity. Customers filled their closets with these deeply discounted products, which served to reduce customer demand for new product. In total, millions of pairs of shoes were sold at below market prices in order to realign inventory and product mix. (emphasis added)

As if that wasn’t enough, the company also noted:

The delayed production caused a major inventory flow disruption during the 2017 Holiday season and a computer systems breakdown in the summer of 2018 significantly affected the back to school season, leading to diminished sales and same store sales declines.

Sheesh. Did the dog also eat the real strategy? Bloomberg writes:

The repeat bankruptcies are a sign the original restructuring may have been rushed through too quickly or didn’t do enough to solve the retailers’ industry-wide and company-specific problems.

And this quote, clearly, is dead on:

“One of the easiest ways to waste time and money in Chapter 11 is to use the process only to effect a change in ownership but not to take the time and protections afforded by the bankruptcy process to fix underlying operations,” Ted Gavin, a turnaround consultant and the president of the American Bankruptcy Institute, told Bloomberg Law. 

This begs the question: what did the original bankruptcy ACTUALLY accomplish? Apparently, it accomplished this pretty looking chart:

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And not a whole lot more.*

The company also failed to achieve another key strategic initiative upon which its post-bankruptcy business plan was based: investment in its stores and the deployment of omni-channel capabilities that, ironically, would make the company less dependent upon its massive brick-and-mortar footprint. Per the company:

…the Debtors’ liquidity constraints prevented the Debtors from investing in their store portfolio to open, relocate, or remodel targeted stores to keep up with competitors.

And:

Moreover, Payless was unable to fulfill its plan for omni-channel development and implementation, i.e., the integration of physical store presence with online digital presence to create a seamless, fully integrated shopping experience for customers. As of the Petition Date, the completion of this unified customer experience has been limited to approximately two hundred stores. Without a robust omni-channel offering, Payless has been unable to keep up with the shift in customer demand and preference for online shopping versus the traditional brick-and-mortar environment.

In other words “success” really means “still too much effing debt.” This would almost be funny if it didn’t tragically end with the termination of thousands of jobs of people who, clearly, mistakenly put their faith in a management team so entirely in over their heads. Literally nothing was executed according to plan. Nothing.

Seven months after emerging from bankruptcy the company was already in front of its lenders with its hand out seeking more liquidity. Which…it got. In March 2018, the company secured an additional $25mm commitment under the first-in-last-out portion of its asset-backed credit facility. What’s crazy about this is that, never mind the employees, the supplier community got totally duped again here. In the first case, the debtors extended their suppliers by ONE HUNDRED DAYS only for them, absent critical vendor status, to get nearly bupkis** as general unsecured claimants. Here, the debtors again extended their suppliers by as much as 80 days: the top list of creditors is littered with manufacturers based in Hong Kong and mainland China. Who needs Donald Trump when we have Payless declaring a trade war on China twice-over? (PETITION NOTE: we know this is easier said than done, but if you’re a supplier to a retailer in today’s retail environment, you need to get your sh*t together! Pick up a newspaper for goodness sake: how is it that the entire distressed community knows that a 22 is coming and yet you’re extending credit for 80-100 days? It’s honestly mind-boggling. The company cites over 50k total creditors (inclusive of employees) and $225mm of unsecured debt. That’s a lot of folks getting torched.)

Some other notes about this case:

Liquidators. Much like with Things Remembered and Charlotte Russe, they mysteriously have bandwidth again such that they no longer need to JV up as a foursome as they did in Gymboree. Instead, we’re back to the slightly-less-anti-competitive twosome of Great American Group LLC ($RILY) and Tiger Capital Group.

Kirkland & Ellis. There’s something strangely ironic here about the fact that the firm went from representing the company in the chapter 11 to representing its liquidators in the 22. Seriously. You can’t make this sh*t up.

Independent Directors. Here we go again. Remember: the Payless 11 led us to Nine West Holdings which led us to Sears Holding Corp. ($SHLD). We have documented that whole string of disasters here. In the first case, Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital got away with two separate dividend recaps totaling millions of dollars in exchange for a piddling $20mm settlement. Moreover, to incrementally increase the pot for general unsecured creditors, senior lenders had to waive their deficiency claims that would have otherwise diluted the unsecured pool and made recoveries even more insubstantial. So, here we are again. Two new independent directors have been appointed to the board and they will investigate whether controlling shareholder Alden Capital Management pillaged this company in a similar way that it has reportedly and allegedly pillaged newspapers across the country.***

Fees. If you want to quantify the magnitude of this travesty, note that the first Payless chapter 11 earned the following professionals the following approximate amounts:

  • Kirkland & Ellis LLP = $4.995mm

  • Armstrong Teasdale LLP = $495k

  • Guggenheim Securities LLC = $6.825mm

  • Alvarez & Marsal = $1.9mm

  • Munger Tolles = $898k

  • Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones LLP (as lead counsel to the UCC) = $2.5mm

  • Province Inc. = $2.6mm

  • Michel-Shaked Group = $560mm

Now THAT was money well spent.****


*Via three separate store closing motions, the company shuttered 686 stores. The second store closing motion proposed 408 store closures but was later revised downward to only 216.

**Unsecured creditors received their pro rata share of two recovery pools in the aggregate amount of $32.3mm, $20mm of which came from the company’s private equity sponsors as settlement of claims stemming from two pre-petition dividend recapitalization transactions. In exchange, the private equity firms received releases from potential liability (without having to admit any wrongdoing).

***Alden Global Capital is no stranger to controversy over its media holdings. In the same week it finds itself in bankruptcy court for Payless, Alden found itself in the news for its reported desire to buy Gannett. This has drawn the attention of New York Senator Chuck Schumer who expressed concerns over Alden’s “strategy of acquiring newspapers, cutting staff, and then selling off the real estate assets of newsrooms and printing presses at a profit.” 

***This is but a snapshot. There were several other professionals in the mix including, significantly, the real estate advisors who also made millions of dollars.

🍾Happy Anniversary, Tower Records!!🍾

Tower Records Filed for Chapter 22 on August 20, 2006 (Long Disruption)

12 years ago today Tower Records Inc. filed for bankruptcy for the second time in 2.5 years, ending the company’s run in the United States (and most other places of the world).

The company first filed for bankruptcy in February 2004. The music retailer had approximately 90 stores and more than $110mm in debt that it owed to the likes of AIG Investment Group, Goldman Sachs & Co., JPMorgan Chase and…wait for it…Bear Stearns Securities Corp. The first bankruptcy was a short prepackaged bankruptcy that eliminated $80mm of debt in a debt-for-equity swap, leaving the company’s famous and eccentric owners with 15% of the company. The company attempted a sale process but had no takers. CIT Group provided the company with a $100mm DIP credit facility. O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Richards Layton & Finger PA represented the company (and both signatories to the petition actually still remain at those firms).

Interestingly, with some limited exception, the narrative explaining the company’s demise is not-all-too-different from what we see from retailers today. SFGate wrote at the time:

Tower's difficulties reflect those of the music industry during the past few years. Industry sales declined from $10.49 billion in 1999 to $8.93 billion in 2002, according to a report from the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, which attributed the swoon to digital downloading and copying. Retailers are also under pressure from online sales by firms such as Amazon.com, and from deep discounting by such rivals as Wal-Mart, and fierce competition from other chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble.

CBSNews added:

The filing is expected to help clear the way for selling the 93-store chain that suffered from rapid changes in the music business, especially the exploding popularity of downloading music for free from the Internet. Discounters such as Best Buy, Circuit City and Wal-Mart Stores also undercut Tower's prices and hurt the chain's earnings.

Those trends and a major slump in the music industry followed fast on the heels of the company's 1998 decision to expand using $110 million of borrowed money. The expansion drove Tower to a peak of more than $1 billion in annual revenue with nearly 200 stores in 21 states and numerous franchises internationally. But it has been rapidly downsizing since 2001.

A filing last April with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revealed the retailer had lost money for 13 straight quarters.

Wait. Amazon ($AMZN)? Check. Deep discounting from the likes of Walmart ($WMT)? Check. Too much debt to fund an over-expansion? Check. Revenue declines on the basis of technological innovation? Check. We guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And stay the same they did. Even then. It took just 2.5 years for the company to wind its way back into bankruptcy court. And for all of the same reasons. Two months later, Great American Group, a firm that specializes in liquidations, emerged as the highest and best bidder in an auction for the company, winning with a bid of $134.5mm; it beat Trans World Entertainment Corporation ($TWMC), an entertainment media retail store operator that — shockingly — still exists. You may be familiar with it: it’s largest specialty retail brand is fye, which as of May 2018, still operated 253 stores. It is hanging by a thread, but it still exists — largely on the back of its etailz segment, which apparently thrives by doing omni-channel business with Amazon, Ebay, Jet.com/Walmart and Wish.

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Anyway, Trans World had hoped to continue operating at least some of the Tower locations; it lost the bidding by $500k. And, accordingly, Tower Records liquidated. While there is such a thing as Tower Records in Asia, the name is all but a distant memory today.

Diving into Retail III (Liquidating Like a boss)

This piece does a great PR job for the four main bankruptcy liquidators coming just short of the "C" word ("collusion," that is). Choice stat: "Revenues for Great American’s auction and liquidation services increased $26.3 million, or 73.7%, to $61.9 million last year. All of that was due to an increase in revenues from retail liquidation engagements." Recognizing that these figures represent revenue rather than profit, we nevertheless draw two potential conclusions from these massive amounts: 1) companies are doing a horrific job of negotiating deals with these liquidators if there is THAT MUCH value to be reaped by the liquidators amid THAT MUCH competition; and 2) those flashy red/yellow GOB signs belie what kind of deal consumers are actually getting at the end of the day. What are those 40-50% off figures off of? We're curious. Meanwhile, add Bebe Stores as a source of revenue for '17.