Automotive (Short the B2B Business Model)

More Signs of Upcoming Auto-Related Distress

Assuming Uber Technologies Inc. can survive its latest self-imposed issues, e.g., an unreported data breach, increased regulatory scrutiny, skittish investors in Softbank and Benchmark Capital, etc.,, it appears to be positioning itself and the automobile industry towards a brand new business model. This week Uber announced its (non-binding) agreement to purchase 24k sport utility vehicles from Volvo Cars to seed a fleet of autonomous cars. Deployment date: 2019. Yes, 2019. Anyway, in addition to the obvious and previously discussed implications for labor, this move might have bigger ramifications: a forced pivot of the automotive business model in the direction of the airline model.

What do we mean by that? Assuming a great many things (including Uber's ability to successfully deploy its sensors and software with Volvo's hardware, regulatory hurdles, etc.), this could be another blow to the model of individual car ownership, the B2C formula deployed by the OEMs for years. Hyperbole? Maybe, but if people stop buying cars (and borrow money to do so), auto companies will see significant revenue effects. And they'd have to sell more to fleet operators, i.e., Uber, Lyft, etc., much like Boeing ($BA) and Airbus ($AIR) sell to Delta ($DAL), United Airlines ($UA), etc. This could mean fewer cars on the road, all told. Which, as we've previously discussed here and here, could lead to increased pain in the auto supply chain. 

Elsewhere in auto, the Faraday Future dumpster fire is turning into a full-fledged conflagration and looks like a ripe candidate to be voluntaried into bankruptcy.

And, finally, we noted back in February that 3D-printing could have a big impact on a number of industries. Now, apparently, 3D printing is projected to have a spike in activity in 2018. Businesses sourcing it most? Manufacturing, telecom, defense, and, of course, auto. To point, Divergent 3D just raised $65mm Series B financing round to build its car frame business. Curious.

The (Hard) Business of Eating

Long VC Subsidies & Facebook's Copying Skills

Generally speaking, there are four categories in the dining space. First, there are the QSRs (quick service restaurants). Your run-of-the-mill fast food spots fall into this space. For the most part, these guys are doing okay: McDonald's ($MCD) and Wendy's ($WEN), for instance, have both seen great stock performance in the TTM. Second, there's the fast casual space. Competition here is fast and furious covering all manner of ethnicities and varieties. Chipotle ($CMG) and Panera Bread are probably the two best known representatives of this category. The former has gotten SMOKED and the latter got taken private. Generally speaking, there'll be some shakeout here, but the category as a whole has been holding its own. Third, there's the fine dining space. This is a tough space to play in but there are clear cut winners and losers (Le Cirque, see below): not a lot of chains fall in to this category. And, finally, there is the casual dining category. Here is where there's been a ton of shakeout. This past week, for instance, Ruby Tuesday Inc. ($RT) - the ubiquitous casual dining restaurant loosely associated with bad New Jersey strip malls - got bailed out...uh, taken private by NRD Capital at a fraction of its once $30/share price. (There was some assumed debt, too, to be fair). Moreover, Romano's Macaroni Grill filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. In RMG's bankruptcy papers, the company's Chief Restructuring Officer said the following, "The Debtors’ operations and financial performance have been adversely affected by a number of economic factors, but perhaps most notably by an overall downturn for the casual dining industry. The preferences of such customers have shifted to cheaper, faster alternatives. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a trend among younger customers to spend their disposable income at non-chain “experience-driven” restaurants, even if slightly more expensive." No. Bueno. See below for a more in-depth (and slightly repetitive summary) of this particular bankruptcy filing. 

Unfortunately, the restaurant world received some other (slightly under-the-radar) bad news this past week: UberEATSUber's food delivery service, reportedly generated 10% of the company's total global bookings in Q2 - which, extrapolated, equates to $3b in gross sales for the year. That's a lot of food delivery to a lot of people sitting at home doing the "Netflix-and-chill" thing instead of the eat-microwaved-mozzarella-sticks-at-the-local-Ruby-Tuesday-thing. Of course, this is attributable to Softbank and other venture capitalists who are subsidizing this money-losing endeavor: UberEATS is unprofitable in 75% of the cities it services. On the other hand, do you know what IS profitable? Facebook ($FB). Yeah, Facebook is profitable. And Facebook is going after this space too; it released its plans to get into the online food ordering business earlier this week. And many suspect that this may be a precursor to a foray into food delivery as well. Why? Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg saw Cowen's prediction that US food delivery would grow 79% in the next several years. Delivery or not, anything that helps make online food ordering easier and more mainstream is an obvious headwind to the casual dining spots. Given that this area is already troubled and many casual dining spots have already fallen victim to bankruptcy, there don't seem to be many indications of a near-term reversal of fortune. Headwinds for the casual dining space correlate to tailwinds for restructuring professionals. Sick? Yeah. Sad? Sure. But true. 

Busted Tech

Speaking of tech, Quixey, a "pioneer" of deep mobile search, announced in an epically hubristic blog post that it is shutting down and exploring strategic options (read: IP sale in bankruptcy, most likely). It has $31mm of venture debt and $134mm of venture capital from the likes of Alibaba and Softbank scattered on the cap table. On the topic of venture debt, choice quote from Fred Wilson taken from here: "I have lived [the venture debt] story several times in my career and we are seeing this play out again in the market." Sure sounds like it. We've surveyed a number of restructuring professionals and there seems to be very little attention given to busted tech. Well, maybe other than from us. Why? No debt, we're told. Really? No debt? See, e.g., Violin Memory, Answers.com, Aspect Software. And, now also, some Soundcloud news - a company we have previously identified as a potential bankruptcy candidate. The company appears to have secured an additional $70mm of venture debt (additive to the $30mm previously raised from Tennenbaum Capital Partners) from the likes of Ares Capital, among others. Something tells us that Houlihan Lokey isn't in the business of making nonsensical and useless acquisitions. Interested in this subject? Email us.