💩Will KKR Pay Toys R Us' Severance?💩

Optimism Remains in Toys R Us Situation

Surprisingly.

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

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

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

With this as background, Primack wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Primack also points out,

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

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

Sadly Primack didn’t stop there; he continued,

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

Um, ok, sure.

He continues,

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

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

Disruption Disrupted (Short Money Burning Data Plays): Moviepass

Ok. Soooooo…this won’t shock anyone who has been paying attention. Apparently Moviepass — the company that lets subscribers see one movie a day for only $9.99 a month — is burning cash like nobody’s business. S.H.O.C.K.E.R. A first grade student can do THAT math.

Moviepass’ parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. ($HMNY) reported in an 8K filed this week that it burned $21.7 million per month from September 2017 through April 2018. The company now has $15.5 million in available cash with another $27.9 million in accounts receivable. Hang on: 15.5 + 27.9 (carry the four) = 43.4. Minus 21.7 and another 21.7 and….💥🔥💥🔥. Which prompted CNN to ask, “is the end near?” Here’s a choice quote...

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Entertainment 3.0 (Short Hollywood, Long Subsidized Data Plays & Will Smith?)

More Data = More Crap Like "Bright" 

We've addressed algorithmic-based books and music, we might as well triple-down with movies. It's well known by now that Netflix ($NFLX) and Amazon ($AMZN) are using their respective data sets to develop new original projects. This circumvents the otherwise costly endeavor of licensing deals for outside content which, naturally, is fragmented in such a way that is costly to Netlfix/Amazon and frictionful in certain respects for the end user. Why is some content available internationally while other content is not? Why is certain content downloadable but other isn't? All of that has to do with "rights" for licensable content. 

This is precisely why we get "Bright," the new Will Smith vehicle that "feels like it was produced by an algorithm to fit in as many genres as possible (crime, fantasy, cops, etc.)." Netflix has said that 11mm people watched the movie in the first three days of release. At an average movie price of $8.90/ticket, that's the equivalent of nearly $98mm in revenue in three days. A sequel has been green-lit. This movie was an experiment dripping with data-based motivation and it seems to have worked. What does this portend for Hollywood?

Oh, Hollywood. This week we also learned that moviegoing has fallen to its lowest rate in a generation: theater admissions fell nearly 6% in 2017.  Choice quote“'The industry should be concerned if the metric falls again in 2018,' said Geetha Ranganathan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. 'Especially with a stronger film slate for this year, fewer moviegoers would be a warning sign that the industry may be in secular decline.'” Ruh Roh. 

And so should we really be surprised that there's a company out there now attempting to exploit data relating to Hollywood-produced theatrically-released movies? Enter Moviepass, a subscription-based business that lets movie-goers go to an unlimited amount of movies per month for only $9.95/month (subject to a one movie in 24 hours restriction). The movie theaters are like, "What the hell?" but consumers are like, "Sign me up!" 1 million of them. The movie theaters are like, "That's our data!" and Moviepass is like, "We don't care, go fly a kite home-slice." 

This Tren Griffin piece does a deep dive into the Moviepass business and leaves much to unpack. The piece is long but it provides some real insights into the movie theater business and the numbers are bleak. For theaters. For Moviepass. For basically everyone other than the moviegoers who ought to enjoy the Moviepass-subsidized movie-going while it lasts. And that probably includes malls - many of which are betting their futures on moviegoers seeking the moviegoing "experience." 

All of which would explain the recent waive of consolidation. In the past month alone, Cineworld Group Plc agreed to buy #2 U.S. movie chain Regal Entertainment Group for $3.6 billion. And Walt Disney Co. ($DIS) awaits approval of its proposed $52.4b acquisition of 21st Century Fox Inc., including the company’s movie studio. Content is king right now. It helps drive more data for more content. Yes, this is becoming very circular. 

And so back to Will SmithRumor has it that the actor famously performed a data-based analysis to determine how he could best catapult himself to stardom. Then came Independence Day. And Men in Black. Those movies weren't luck: they were strategy. Which is to say that if streamers are all about data, and Hollywood is (now) all about data, and actors are all about data, consumers probably ought to get used to movies like Bright.