Retail Roundup (Long Tourniquets, Long Headwinds).

The retail bloodbath continues.

Earlier this week, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. ($ANF) joined Ralph Lauren Corp. ($RL)Gap Inc. ($GPS), and Calvin Klein ($PVH) by ditching “flagship” stores situated in expensive parts of town. The stock got crushed on earnings. But the “Peace Out Flagship Square Footage” club didn’t stop growing there. To the contrary, it is expanding. Rapidly.

On Wednesday, J. Crew announced that it plans to shutter 20 flagship and outlet stores. “Why might it be trying to shrink its footprint,” you ask? Good question. And the comps give you all the answers you need. While total revenue rose 7% across the enterprise, J.Crew sales fell 4% with comps down 1%. In contrast, Madewell sales rose 15% and comps rose 10%. 


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Retail Roundup (Some Surprising Results; More Closures)

Retail Remains in a State of Transition

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  • Macy’s ($M) reported earnings earlier this week and surprised to the upside - particularly with the news that its sales grew in the latest quarter (after 2.75 years of consistent decline). Most of the upside came from cost control measures (and the expansion of its off-price offering, Backstage). Likewise, Dillard’s.

  • Toys R Us entered administration in the UK.

  • Charlotte Russe earned itself what we would deem a “tentative” upgrade after consummating an out-of-court exchange transaction that delevered its balance sheet. S&P Global cautioned that it expects “liquidity to be tight” over the next 12 months.

  • Chico’s FAS Inc. ($CHS) reported same store comp sales down 5.2% and indicated that it closed 41 net stores in 2017, including 14 net stores in Q4. Net income and EPS was higher.

  • Foot Locker ($FL) intends to close net 70 stores in 2018 after closing net 53 stores in 2017.

  • Kohl’s Corp. ($KSS) is becoming a de facto co-retailing location after first partnering with Amazon ($AMZN) and now Aldi.

  • JCPenney ($JCP) announced that it is cutting full-time employees and increasing use of part-time employees instead. Total sales rose 1.8% but missed estimates. Comparable sales rose 2.6% and net income, ex-tax reform benefits, was down 6.6%.

  • Office Depot ($ODP) reported comp store sales declines of 4% and total sales down 7%. It closed 63 stores, including 26 in Q4. Note that we’re not reporting net closures: the company didn’t open any stores.

  • Supervalu may be shutting down 50 Farm Fresh Supermarkets in North Carolina and Virginia.

Professional-Services.ai

Short junior attorneys...the machines are coming for them. And, frankly, why shouldn't they come for attorneys at ALL levels? After all, are there situations where there is "overzealous advocacy and hyperactive legal efforts"? When there are "so many attorneys and their respective billings"? "When the hourly rates and amount of time billed are simply unreasonable"? "Staggering," in fact?  Suffice it to say, you won't see Weil filing any cases in Southern District of Iowa anytime soon (see below). Frankly, "overzealous advocacy and hyperactive legal efforts" seems like it could have just as easily applied to the pissing contest that was the equitable subordination claim in Aeropostale but who are we to judge a grudge match between Weil and Kirkland & Ellis (which the the latter convincingly won)? We were too busy popping popcorn and putting our feet up. Switching gears and looking elsewhere in changing labor markets, here's to wondering: is the "gig economy" working? And what becomes of those 89,000 lost retail jobs?

Speaking of retail jobs, it looks like the bankers have all of them. Now there's M&A noise around Neiman Marcus, which is heating up with Hudson's Bay sniffing around hard but trying to avoid assumption of Neiman's substantial debt-load. Meanwhile Nine West Holdings has hired Lazard to figure out its capital structure. Elsewhere in retail, Macy's ($M), Kohl's ($KSS), Nordstrom ($JWN) and J.C. Penney ($JCP) all reported earnings that looked like a dumpster fire and the stocks promptly got decimated. We're sure the bankers are salivating. And speaking of retailers with jacked-up debt (and bankers), GNC Holdings Inc. and its agent bankers JPMorgan reportedly attempted but ultimately failed to extend GNC's $1.13b loan by three years. Now GNC says it will use its "strong" free cash flow to fund ops and deal with its '18 maturity. This is an interesting story on many levels. First, there have been a TON of share buybacks in recent years (the public equivalent of a dividend recap - our favorite) and so it was only a matter of time before one of them bit an uncreative and misled -- uh, we mean, generous shareholder-minded - management team in the bum. Second, the "Amazon-effect" apparently applies to meatheads too with vitamin sales allegedly shifting online. Who knew Biff could function in an m-commerce world? Go Biff. Third, despite a variety of downward trending financials, GNC's loan is still trading at a tick below par and so the proposed transaction might have affected the lenders' yield metrics (hence the rejection). Which gets us to #4: with crappy loans like GNC's ticking up so far upward, most distressed players can't stop complaining about a dearth of opportunities to target: everything is priced to perfection. Sadly, everyone needs the yield wherever they can get it hoping (praying?) that when the going gets rough, they'll be the first to hit eject. No, no (rate-fueled) bubble to see here.  

Feature of the Week: More Earnings (Simon Property Group & Starbucks)

This past week was an earnings-fest with Amazon and Google pumping out redonkulous numbers, Vince Holding Corp. missing estimates by 10 cents, declining 26% and continuing its slide towards bankruptcy, and FTI Consulting missing estimates BADLY, declining 3% and charting -23% year-to-date (we wonder how Berkeley Research Group is doing?). While all of these reports were intriguing, we took particular interest in reports from Simon Property Group and Starbucks...

Simon Property Group

Upshot: increased net operating income, increased retail sales per square foot, and increased average base rent. The company reported a flat occupancy rate of 95.6% at Q1 end and affirmed it's previous '17 guidance (typically, the company raises guidance). Snoozefest, we know, but keep reading...

CEO David Simon had a number of choice things to say about the current state of affairs (PETITION commentary follows in italics):

  • Retailers need to improve the in-store experience via technology, look and feel, and merchandising. He straight-up called his tenants to task alleging that they are overspending on the internet vs. the store fleet. He says this is reversing back and notes that pure e-commerce will need brick-and-mortar. Ironically, most recent bankrupt retailers claim that they filed for bankruptcy because they hadn't focused on their e-commerce fast enough! We can't recall one bankrupt retailer who cited too much expense associated with e-commerce as a cause for filing. He also makes no mention whatsoever of Amazon and Walmart's increased market share in clothing, the rise of mobile e-commerce, the rise of platforms, and millennials' lack of interest in shopping (and penchant for vintage clothing). 
  • A lot of the current bad performance is driven by private equity leverage rather than the common theme, the internet. He expressly calls out dividend recaps. No quarrel here whatsoever and more victims of this are in the bankruptcy pipeline. 
  • SPG has lowered apparel in its retail mix by 5-6%. Whether that was elective was not clear.
  • Expect more discounters like TJ Maxx and HomeGoods and grocers like 365Wegmans and Fresh Market in high end malls. Other specific new tenants include restaurants (Fig & OliveNobu) and several movie theater brands with the occasional Dave & Buster's thrown in for good measure. This all seems consistent with the narrative that more experiential-oriented tenants will fill these spaces. Query how long until and to what degree the pain in the grocer segment will come to roost, if at all.
  • Because these long-term anchors aren't driving foot traffic and revenue to the malls, there is a lot of upside in reclaiming and redeveloping department stores for mixed use, lifetime or community-oriented activity. They are actively taking back space from unproductive retailers and they are "not putting good money in the rabbit hole," suggesting, at least, in part, that future Aeropostale-like deals are unlikely. Note, also, Aeropostale's performance shaved several basis points off performance and is likely to continue doing so through Q4. This sure sounds like a solid counter-narrative but won't this eventually boil down to a case of volume assuming the vacancy rate next quarter is lower than this quarter?
  • Store closures in a market also kill internet sales for that business in-market too. Really interesting and speaks to the thesis promoted by the likes of Warby Parker that some retail presence helps scale.
  • Expect improvements in technology in the mall environment. If people had an issue with Unroll.me selling their data, wait until the beacons scale! 
  • The mall "traffic is there" and the retail apocalypse "narrative is way ahead of itself." Yet, he wouldn't provide traffic data noting that there aren't traffic counters in their malls. The parking trackers at their outlets, however, are up 2%. See also Starbucks below.
  • The strong US dollar has had a significant impact on spending by international tourists. So has our President but we won't go there. Oh, wait, we just did. Not a political commentary: just a plain fact.
  • He would not opine as to how much per capital retail needs to come out of the system. It was abstract but, as we noted last weekVornado Trust's CEO noted somewhere between 10-30% in the next five years.

Macro narrative aside, Mr. Simon remained upbeat about SPG's quarter and guidance. But speaking of REITS, we'd be remiss if we didn't point out this doozy of a red flag piece by the WSJ, highlighting 10 retailers that S&P Global Market Intelligence has noted as at high risk of default: Sears Holding Corp. (for obvious reasons), DGSE Companies Inc. (millennials don't buy precious metals, apparently), Appliance Recycling Center of America Inc. (millennials haven't been buying homes, apparently, so no need for recycled appliances...?), The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. (specialty retailer massacre), Bebe Stores Inc. (what? nobody wants glittery hats and shirts shouting BEBE anymore?), Destination XL Group Inc. ("our financial condition is extremely healthy" says the CEO whose company has a projected net loss on $470mm of revenue), Perfumania Holdings Inc. (mall-based perfume including the foul-stench of the Trump family...also fact, just saying), Fenix Parts Inc. (doesn't Amazon have an auto parts reselling business? why, yes, as a matter of fact it does), Tailored Brands Inc. (tons of quality tuxedo options online these days), Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc. (obvious).

Of SPG's top 10 anchors, Sears is #2 with 69 locations and 11.3mm square footage of space and The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. is #10 with 8 stores and 1.1mm square footage of space. Macy's is #1 with 121 stores and 23.1mm square footage. Top in-line stores? L BrandsSignet Jewelers and Ascena Retail Group - all of which are reporting rough numbers of late. Which may explain why, in the end, SPG's stock was down this week, is down for '17, and is close to its 52-week low. 

Starbucks

Starbucks is just fine from the restructuring community's perspective. With one exception: Teavana. The company indicated that it is "evaluating strategic options." Why? Good question and, quite frankly, the answer is very much at odds with what Mr. Simon says. See, Teavana is a mall-based retailer; it has 350 locations. And they're not faring well predominantly because, per Starbucks' CFO, there is dramatically reduced mall traffic. Accordingly, Teavana has been suffering from negative same store comps and operating losses "for some time" with the rate of decline over the last 6 months far worse than forecast. Now even further declines are expected. And so we did a quick check: there are 78 Teavana locations in Simon Properties which would be 22% of all Teavana locations. Is it possible that those locations are the outliers and are performing extremely well on account of steady foot traffic? Starbucks doesn't break out numbers of a per location basis. But we highly doubt it.