👜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.” 🤔

💥KKR Effectively Tells Bernie Sanders to Pound Sand💥

Toys R Us (Short Severance Payments)

Toys R Us (Short Severance Payments). Ok, this is getting out of hand. Shortly after Dan Primack wrote that KKR ought to pay for 30,000 employees’ severance OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF KKR’S HEART, Pitchbook jumped in parroting the same nonsense.

Look. Don’t get us wrong. Long time readers know that we’ve been hyper-critical of the PE bros since our inception. But this is just ludicrous already. In “💩Will KKR Pay Toys' Severance?💩” and again in “🔥Amazon is a Beast🔥 we noted that “[t]here’s ZERO CHANCE IN HELL KKR funds severance payments.” We stand by that. Without any legal compunction to do so, these guys aren’t going to just open up their coffers to dole out alms to the affected. That’s not maximizing shareholder value. Those affected aren’t exactly future LPs.

But wait. This keeps getting better.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that on July 5:

Nineteen members of Congress sent a letter to the private-equity backers of Toys “R” Us Inc. questioning their role in the toy retailer’s bankruptcy and criticizing the leveraged-buyout model as an engine of business failure and job loss.

The letter’s content? Per the WSJ:

It asks whether the investment firms deliberately pushed Toys “R” Us into bankruptcy and encourages them to compensate the roughly 33,000 workers who lost their jobs.

Take a look at this letter. It demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of how private equity works.

Meanwhile, Congress cannot get the President of the United States to turn over his tax returns with the entire country waiting for that to happen and yet we’re supposed to believe that a letter will compel KKR to make severance payments. Utterly laughable. KKR owns those fools and they know it. Okay: maybe not Bernie Sanders.

Imagine the response:

“Um, yes, Representative Poindexter. We did. We deliberately flushed hundreds of millions of dollars of equity checks down the toilet. We hear that makes a compelling marketing message to potential LPs of our next big fund.”

Thankfully, you don’t have to imagine the response because KKR already responded. Per the WSJ:

KKR issued a response dated July 6 stating that Toys “R” Us’s troubles were caused by market forces—specifically the growth of e-commerce retailers—and that the decision to liquidate was made by the company’s creditors, not KKR, and was against the firm’s wishes.

Furthermore:

KKR stated in its response that it reinvested $3.5 billion in Toys “R” Us over the course of its ownership and didn’t take any investment profits. It added that it wrote down its entire equity investment of $418 million and challenged reports that it had earned a profit on the investment.

“Even accounting for fees received from Toys ‘R’ Us, we have lost many millions of dollars. To find anyone who profited, one would need to look at the institutions that pushed for Toys to liquidate its U.S. business,” the firm wrote.

In other words: “Pound sand, Sanders.”

🔥Amazon is a Beast🔥

The "Amazon Effect" Takes More Victims

Scott Galloway likes to say that mere announcements from Amazon Inc. ($AMZN) can result in billions of dollars of wiped-out market capitalization. Upon this week’s announcement that Amazon has purchased Boston-based online pharmacy startup Pillpack for $1 billion — beating out Walmart ($WMT) in the process — his statement proved correct. Check this out:

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We like to make fun of the Amazon narrative because we’re of the view that it’s overplayed — particularly in restructuring circles — and reflects a failure to understand broader macro trends (like the direct-to-consumer invasion noted below). Still, the market reaction to this purchase reflects the undeniable power of the “Amazon Effect” and we’d be remiss not to acknowledge as much. This purchase will likely be a turning point for pharmacies for sure; perhaps also, farther down the line, for benefits managers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. It also may provide Amazon with meaningful cross-pollination opportunities with its payments business — a subject that nobody seems to be talking about (more on this below).

Putting aside the losers for now, there are a variety of winners. First, obviously, are Pillpack’s founders, TJ Parker and Elliot Cohen. They stand to make a ton of money. Also its investors — Accel Partners, Atlas Venture, CRV, Founder Collective, Menlo Ventures, Sherpa Ventures and Techstars — at an 8x return, at least. Oh, and Nas apparently. And then there is Amazon itself. Pillpack isn’t a massive revenue generator ($100mm in ‘17) and it isn’t a big company (1k employees) but it packs a big punch: licenses to ship drugs in 50 sates. With this purchase, Amazon just hurdled over a significant regulatory quagmire.

So what is Pillpack? Per Wired (by way of Ben Thompson):

PillPack is trying to solve the problem of drug adherence by simplifying your medicine cabinet. Medication arrives in the mail presorted into clear plastic packets, each marked in a large font with vital information: day, time, pills inside, dosages. These are ordered chronologically in a roll that slots into the dispenser. Let’s say you need to take four different pills in the morning and two others in the afternoon every day: Those pills would be sorted into two tear-off packets: one marked 8am, followed immediately by the 2pm packet.

Put another way, Pillpack specializes in the convenience of getting you your medications directly with a design and user-experience focus to boot. The latter helps ensure that you’re taking the proper levels of medication at the right time.

Still, there are some limitations. Per The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon will be limited in what it can do, especially to start. PillPack’s specialty—packaging a month’s supply of pills for chronic-disease patients—is a small part of the overall market. It has said it has tens of thousands of customers versus Amazon’s hundreds of millions.

Current limitations notwithstanding, Thompson notes how much Pillpack’s service aligns with Amazon:

Amazon, particularly for Prime customers, is seeking to be the retailer of habit. That is, just as a chronic condition patient may need to order drugs every month, Amazon wants to be the source of monthly purchases of household supplies, and anything else one might want to buy along the way.

Like all aggregators, Amazon wins by providing a superior user experience, particularly when it comes to delivering the efficient frontier of price and selection. To that end, moving into pharmaceuticals via a company predicated on delivering a superior user experience makes total sense.

Thompson notes further:

The benefit Amazon will provide to PillPack, on the other hand, is primarily about dramatically decreasing the customer acquisition costs for a solution that is far better for consumers; to put it another way, Amazon will make a whole lot more people aware of a much more customer-friendly solution. Frankly, I have a hard time seeing why that is problematic.

To be sure, Amazon will benefit beyond its unique ability to supercharge PillPack’s customer acquisition numbers: just as Walgreen and CVS’s pharmacies draw customers to their traditional retail stores, PillPack’s focus on regular ordering fits in well with Amazon’s desire to be at the center of its customers day-to-day lives. This works in two directions: first, that Amazon now has a direct connection to a an ongoing transaction, and second, that would-be Amazon customers are dissuaded from visiting a retail pharmacy and, inevitably, buying something else along the way. This was a point I made in Amazon’s New Customer:

This, though, is why groceries is a strategic hole: not only is it the largest retail category, it is the most persistent opportunity for other retailers to gain access to Prime members and remind them there are alternatives.

A similar argument could be made for prescription drugs: their acquisition is one of the most consistent and predictable ways by which potential customers exist outside of the Amazon ecosystem. It makes a lot of sense for Amazon to reduce the inclination to ever go elsewhere.

It seems that Amazon is doing that lately for virtually everything. Consistently, further expansion beyond just chronic-disease patients seems inevitable. Margin exists elsewhere in the medical chain too and, well, Jeff Bezos once famously said “Your margin is my opportunity.” David Frankel of Founder Collective writes:

The story of the last five years has been that of bricks and mortar retailers frantically trying to play catch-up with Amazon. By acquiring PillPack, Amazon is now firmly attacking another quarter trillion dollars of TAM. Bezos is a tenacious competitor and has just added the most compelling consumer pharmacy to enter the game since CVS was founded in 1963.

TJ Parker understands the pharma business in his bones, has impeccable product sensibilities, and now has the backing of the most successful retail entrepreneur in history.

Expect some real healthcare reform ahead.

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No wonder those stocks all sh*t the bed. That all sounds downright horrifying for those on the receiving end.

*****

Recall weeks back when we noted this slide in Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends” presentation:

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Healthcare spending continues to rise which, no doubt, includes the cost of medication — a hot button issue of price that even Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have agreed on. This purchase dovetails nicely with Amazon’s overall health ambitions. Per the New York Times:

But Mr. Buck and others said Amazon might have a new opportunity. A growing number of Americans are without health insurance or have such high deductibles that they may be better off bargain shopping on their own. He estimated that 25 million Americans fell into that category.

Until now, he said, PillPack has not aggressively competed on price. With Amazon in charge, “how about they start posting prices that are really, really aggressive?” Mr. Buck said.

As Pillpack increases its scale, Amazon will be able to exert more leverage in the space. This could have the affect of compressing (certain) pharmaceutical prices. To get there, Amazon will undoubtedly seize the opportunity to subsume Pillpack/pharma into Amazon Prime, providing Members discounts on medicine much like it provides Whole Foods shoppers discounts on bananas.

There is other opportunity to expand the user base as well. People are looking to save money on healthcare as much as possible. With cash back rewards, Amazon can offer additional discounts if consumers were to carry and use the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card — which already offers 5% back on Amazon.com and WholeFoods purchases (plus money back elsewhere too). Pillpack too? We could envision a scenario where people scrap their current plastic to ensure that they’re getting discounts off of one of the most rapidly rising expenditures out there. Said another way, as more and more consumer staples like food and medicine are offered by Amazon, Amazon will be able to entice Pillpack customers with further card-related discounts. And grow a significant amount of revenue by way of its card offering. No doubt this is part of the plan. And don’t forget the data that they would compile to boot.

Per Forbes shortly after Amazon launched its Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card,

Given that Amazon credit card holders spend the highest on its platform, the company is looking at ways to expand its credit card consumer base. CIRP estimates that approximately 15% of Amazon’s U.S. customers have any one of Amazon’s credit cards, representing approximately 21 million customers. However, growth of its card base has not kept pace with its growing Prime membership. In June 2016, it was estimated that Amazon has around 63 million Prime members. Assuming that only Prime members have an Amazon credit card, it would mean that only a third of its Prime customers have one of its credit cards. According to a survey by Morgan Stanley, Amazon Prime members spend about 4.6 times more money on its platform than non-prime members. Its credit card holders spend even greater amounts than what Prime members spend. By enticing its prime customers to own its credit cards, Amazon will be encouraging them to spend more on its platform. Its latest card is aimed at attracting Prime customers by offering deals not only on Amazon.com but on other shopping destinations as well. This can lead to higher spending by existing Prime customers and help convert the fence sitters into Prime memberships.

And those numbers are dated. Amazon Prime now has 100mm members. Imagine if they could all get discounts on their meds. 💰💥💰💥

All of which begs the question: who gets hurt and who benefits (other than Visa ($V)) from this potential secondary effect? 🤔

What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 5)(Yield Baby Yield)

This series just keeps getting better and better. You can go back and read parts 1-4 here.

This week the Wall Street Journal reported that “junk bonds are getting junkier.” Oh boy. You have to hand it to to the private equity bros: they have a real sense of the markets these days...

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What to Make of the Credit Cycle (Part 4)

We’ve spent a considerable amount of space discussing what to make of the credit cycle. Our intent is to give professionals a well-rounded view of what to expect now that we’re in year 8/9 of a bull market. You can read Parts one (Members’ only), two, and three (Members’ only), respectively.

Interestingly, certain investors have become impatient and apparently thrown in the towel. Is late 2019 or early 2020 too far afield to continue pretending to deploy a distressed investing strategy? Or are LPs anxious and pulling funds from underperforming or underinvested hedge funds? Is the opportunity set too small - crap retail and specialized oil and gas - for players to be active? Are asset values too high? Are high yield bonds priced too high? All valid questions (feel free to write in and let us know what we’re missing: petition@petition11.com).

In any event, The Wall Street Journal highlights:

A number of distressed-debt hedge funds are abandoning traditional loan-to-own strategies after years of low interest rates resulted in meager returns for investors. Some are even investing in equities.

PETITION Note: funny, last we checked an index fund doesn’t charge 2 and 20.

The WSJ continues,

BlueMountain Capital Management LLC and Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP are some of the bigger funds that have shifted away from this niche-investing strategy. And lots of smaller funds have closed shop.

A number of smaller distressed-debt investors have closed down, including Panning Capital Management, Reef Road Capital and Hutchin Hill Capital.

PETITION Note: the WSJ failed to include TCW Group’s distressed asset fund. What? Too soon?

We should note, however, that there are several other platforms that are raising (or have raised) money for new distressed and/or special situations, e.g., GSO and Knighthead Capital Management.

Still is the WSJ-reported capitulation a leading indicator of increased distressed activity to come? Owl Creek Asset Management LP seems to think so. The WSJ writes,

Owl Creek founder Jeffrey Altman, however, believes that if funds are shutting down and moving away from classic loan-to-own strategies then a big wave of restructuring is around the corner. “If anything, value players leaving credit makes me feel more confident that the extended run-up credit markets have been enjoying may finally be ending,” Mr. Altman said.

One’s loss is another’s opportunity.

*****

Speaking of leading indicators(?) and opportunity, clearly there are some entrepreneurial (or masochistic?) investors who are prepping for increased distressed activity. In December, The Carlyle Group ($CG), via its Carlyle Strategic Partners IV L.P. fund, announced a strategic investment in Prime Clerk LLC, a claims and noticing administrator based in New York (more on Prime Clerk below). Terms were not disclosed — though sources tell us that the terms were rich. Paul Weiss Rifkind & Wharton LLP served as legal counsel and Centerview Partners as the investment banker on the transaction.

On April 19th, Omni Management Group announced that existing management had teamed up with Marc Beillinson and affiliates of the Beilinson Advisory Group (Mark Murphy and Rick Kapko) to purchase Omni Management Group from Rust Consulting. Terms were not disclosed here either. We can’t imagine the terms here were as robust as those above given the market share differential.

The point is: some opportunistic folk sure seem to think that there’s another cycle coming. And they’re putting their money where their mouth is, thinking that there will be money to be made in the (seemingly saturated) case administration business. Time will tell.

Who is Financing Guns (Remington Outdoor)?

Answer: Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Regions Bank, etc.

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In February, we wrote a mock "First Day Bankruptcy Declaration" for Remington Outdoor Company. We wrote:

Murica!! F*#& Yeah!! 

Remington (f/k/a Freedom Group) is "Freedom Built, American Made." Because nothing says freedom like blowing sh*t up. Cue Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." Hell, we may even sing it in court now that Toys R Us has made that a thing. 

Our company traces its current travails to 2007 when Cerberus Capital Management LP bought Remington for $370mm (cash + assumption of debt) and immediately "loaded" the North Carolina-based company with even more debt. As of today, the company has $950mm of said debt on its balance sheet, including a $150mm asset-backed loan due June '19, a $550mm term loan B due April '19, and 7.875% $250mm 3rd lien notes due '20. Suffice it to say, the capital structure is pretty "jammed." Nothing says America like guns...and leverage. 

Shortly after Cerberus purchased the company, Barack Obama became president - a fact, on its own, that many perceived as a real "blowback" to gun ownership. Little did they know. But, then, compounding matters, the Sandy Hook incident occurred and it featured Remington's Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle. Subsequently, speeches were made. Tears were shed. Big pension fund investors like CSTRS got skittish AF. And Cerberus pseudo-committed to selling the company. Many thought that this situation was going to spark "change [you] can believe in," lead to more regulation, and curtail gun sales/ownership. But everyone thought wrong. Tears are no match for lobby dollars. Suckers. 

Instead, firearm background checks have risen for at least a decade - a bullish indication for gun sales. In a sick twist of only-in-America fate, Obama's caustic tone towards gunmakers actually helped sell guns. And that is precisely what Remington needed in order to justify its burdensome capital structure and corresponding interest expense. With Hillary Clinton set to win the the election in 2016, Cerberus' convenient inability to sell was set to pay off. 

But then that "dum dum" "ramrod" Donald Trump was elected and he enthusiastically and publicly declared that he would "never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms."  While that's a great policy as far as we, here, at Remington are concerned, we'd rather him say that to us in private and declare in public that he's going to go door-to-door to confiscate your guns. Boom! Sales through the roof! And money money money money for the PE overlords! Who cares if you can't go see a concert in Las Vegas without fearing for your lives. Yield baby. Daddy needs a new house in Emerald Isle. 

Wait? "How would President Trump say he's going to confiscate guns and nevertheless maintain his base?" you ask. Given that he can basically say ANYTHING and maintain his base, we're not too worried about it. #MAGA!! Plus, wink wink nod nod, North Carolina. We'd all have a "barrel" of laughs over that.  

So now what? Well, "shoot." We could "burst mode" this thing, and liquidate it but what's the fun in that. After all, we still made net revenue of $603.4mm and have gross profit margins of 20.9%. Yeah, sure, those numbers are both down from $865.1mm and 27.4%, respectively, but, heck, all it'll take is a midterm election to reverse those trends baby. 

So, we'd rather "blow up" the capital structure, eliminate $700mm in debt, and start fresh. So, that's what we're going to do. And if you have a problem with it, allow us to remind you that we are armed to the hilt. We've got the lenders putting $145mm of fresh capital into this thing. The ABL lenders will be refinanced-out and the term lenders will get 82.5% of the company and some cash. The third lien noteholders will get the remaining 17.5% of equity, a "brass"-full of cash and some 4-year warrants to capture some upside. You know, in case Trump doesn't win re-election in 2020. Gotta preserve that upside potential. And if anyone DOES have a problem with it...well...let me assure you (looking down at pocket): we're NOT happy to see you.

As it turns out, our (tongue-in-cheek) assessment of the situation wasn't far off. Indeed, increased inventory levels and decreased sales created significant issues for the company's over-levered balance sheet. Earlier this week, we added the following in our synopsis of the company’s bankruptcy filing:

Indeed, our mockery of the change in tone from President Obama to President Trump was spot on: post Trump's election, the company's inventory supply far exceeded demand. The (fictional) threat of the government going house-to-house to collect guns is a major stimulant to demand, apparently. Here is the change in financial performance,

"At the conclusion of 2017, the Debtors had realized approximately $603.4 million in sales and an adjusted EBITDA of $33.6 million. In comparison, in 2015 and 2016, the Debtors had achieved approximately $808.9 million and $865.1 million in sales and $64 million and $119.8 million in adjusted EBITDA, respectively."

Thanks Trump. 

We'd be remiss, however, if we didn't also note that NOWHERE in the company's bankruptcy filings does it mention the backlash against guns or the company's involvement in shootings...namely, the one that occurred in Las Vegas. 

It’s true. Not a mention. Which is even more amazing when you consider that the bankruptcy filing was made on Sunday, March 25, 2018 — the day after the #MarchforourLives. The company blames the bankruptcy almost entirely on the balance sheet. There is a lot of debt:

  • $225mm ABL (Bank of America, $114.5mm funded),

  • $550.5mm term loan (Ankura Trust Company LLC),

  • $226mm 7.875% Senior Secured Notes due 2020 (Wilmington Trust NA),

  • $12.5mm secured Huntsville Note

Significantly, the bankruptcy is supposed to dress the situation. Nowhere it the company’s papers did it suggest any non-debt headwinds — like, for instance, regulation. Indeed, the company doesn't seem to expect any regulatory backlash. This is what the company projects in sales for the coming years:

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Now no reorganization can occur without financing. So recall this @Axios piece about Bank of America's ($BAC) ongoing re-evaluation of its relationship with gun manufacturers. Axios writes,

Beginning what could become a widespread financial squeeze on gun manufacturers, Bank of America says in a statement to Axios that it is reexamining its relationship with banking clients who make AR-15s.

Riiiiiight. Well, $BAC is the prepetition agent to the company’s asset-backed revolver loan and has agreed to be the agent to the company’s Debtor-in-Possession credit facility too. That facility was approved yesterday by the bankruptcy court. It has taken an allocation of the DIP which rolls into an exit credit facility which means that $BAC intends to have a post-bankruptcy relationship with the company. Note Bank of America's piece here:

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Note also Wells Fargo Bank's ($WFC) piece. Now, presumably, the banks will syndicate (some of) their portions out but, well, clearly they have no qualms having exposure to this gun manufacturer.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also point out that, according to The Wall Street Journal, JPMorgan Asset Management and Franklin Resources Inc. are among the lender group that will end up owning a meaningful portion of reorganized Remington's equity.

iHeartMedia 👎, Spotify 👍?

Channeling Alanis Morissette: In the Same Week that Spotify Marches Towards Public Listing, iHeartMedia Marches Towards Bankruptcy

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In anticipation of its inevitable direct listing, we’d previously written about Spotify’s effect on the music industry. We now have more information about Spotify itself as the company finally filed papers to go public - an event that could happen within the month. Interestingly, the offering won’t provide fresh capital to the company; it will merely allow existing shareholders to liquidate holdings (Tencent, exempted, as it remains subject to a lockup). Here’s a TL;DR summary:

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And here’s a more robust summary with some significant numbers:

  • Revenue: Up 39% to €4.1 billion ($4.9 billion) in ‘17, ~€3 billion in ‘16 and €1.9 billion in ‘15. Gross margins are up to 21% from 16% in 2014 - and this is, in large part, thanks to renegotiated contracts with the three biggest music labels. Instead of paying 88 cents on every dollar of revenue, the company now only pays 79 centsOnly.

  • Free Cash Flow: €109 million ($133 million) in ‘17 compared to €73 million in ‘16.

  • Profit: 0. Net loss of €1.2 billion in ‘17, €539 million in ‘16, and €230 in ‘15.

  • Funding: $1b in equity funding from Sony Music (5.7% stake), TCV (5.4%), Tiger Global (6.9%) and Tencent (7.5%). Notably, Tencent’s holdings emanate out of a transaction that converted venture debt held by TPG and Dragoneer into equity - debt which was a ticking time bomb. Presumably, those two shops still hold some equity as Spotify reports that it has no debt outstanding.

  • Subscribership. 159 million MAUs and 71 million premium (read: paid) subscribers as of year end - purportedly double that of Apple Music. Services 61 countries.

  • Available Cash. €1.5 billion

  • Valuation. Maybe $6 billion? Maybe $23.4 billion? Who the eff knows.

For the chart junkies among you, ReCode aggregates some Spotify-provided data. And this Pitchfork piece sums up the ramifications for music fans and speculates on various additional revenue streams for the company, including hardware (to level the playing field with Apple ($AAPL) and Amazon ($AMZN)…right, good luck with that), data sales, and an independent Netflix-inspired record label. After all, original content eliminates those 79 cent royalties.

Still, per Bloomberg,

Spotify for a long time was a great product and a terrible business. Now thanks to its friends and antagonists in the music industry, Spotify's business looks not-terrible enough to be a viable public company. 

Zing! While this assessment may be true on the financials, the aggregation of 71 million premium members and 159 million MAUs is impressive on its face - as is the subscription and ad-based revenue stemming therefrom. Imagine the disruptive potential! Those users had to come from somewhere. Those ad-dollars too.

*****

Enter iHeartMedia Inc. ($IHRT), owner of 850 radio stations and the legacy billboard business of Clear Channel Communications. In 2008, two private equity firms, Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners, closed a $24 billion leveraged buyout of iHeartMedia, saddling the company with $20 billion of debt. Now its capital structure is a morass of different holders with allocations of term loans, asset-backed loans, and notes. The company skipped interest payments on three of those tranches recently. While investors aren’t getting paid, management is: the CEO, COO and GC just secured key employee incentive bonusesAh, distress, we love you. All of which will assuredly amount to prolonged drama in bankruptcy court. Wait? bankruptcy court? You betcha. This week, The Wall Street Journal and every other media outlet on the planet reported that the company is (FINALLY) preparing for bankruptcy. And maybe just in time to lend some solid publicity to the DJ Khaled-hosted 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards on March 11.

For those outside of the restructuring space, we’ll spare you the details of a situation that has been marinating for longer than we can remember and boil this situation down to its simplest form: there’s a f*ck ton of debt. There are term lenders who will end up owning the majority of the company; there are unsecured lenders alleging that they should be on equal footing with said term lenders who, if unsuccessful in that argument, will own a small sliver of equity in the reorganized post-bankruptcy company; and then there is Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners who are holding out to preserve some of their original equity. Toss in a strategic partner like billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media ($BATRA) - owner of SiriusXM Holdings ($SIRI), the largest satellite radio provider - and things can get even more interesting. Lots of big institutions fighting over percentage points that equate to millions upon millions of dollars. Not trivial. Would classifying this tale as anything other than a private equity + debt story be disingenuous? Not entirely.

*****

"It is telling when companies like Spotify hit the markets while more traditional players retrench. Like we've seen in retail, disruption is real and if you stand still and don't adapt, you'll be in trouble. It gets harder to compete when new entrants are delivering a great product at low cost." - Perry Mandarino, Head of Restructuring, B. Riley FBR.

Indeed, there is a disruption angle here too, of course. Private equity shops - though it may seem like it of late - don’t intentionally run companies into the ground. They hope that synergies and growth will allow a company to sustain its capital structure and position a company for a refinancing when debt matures. That all assumes, however, revenue to service the interest on the debt. On that point, back to Spotify’s F-1 filing:

When we launched our Service in 2008, music industry revenues had been in decline, with total global recorded music industry revenues falling from $23.8 billion in 1999 to $16.9 billion in 2008. Growth in piracy and digital distribution were disrupting the industry. People were listening to plenty of music, but the market needed a better way for artists to monetize their music and consumers needed a legal and simpler way to listen. We set out to reimagine the music industry and to provide a better way for both artists and consumers to benefit from the digital transformation of the music industry. Spotify was founded on the belief that music is universal and that streaming is a more robust and seamless access model that benefits both artists and music fans.

2008. The same year as the LBO. Guessing the private equity shops didn’t assume the rise of Spotify - and the $517 million of ad revenue it took in last year alone, up 40% from 2016 - into their models. Indeed, the millennial cohort - early adopters of streaming music - seem to be abandoning radio. From Nielsen:

Finally, Pop CHR is one of America’s largest formats. It ranks No. 1 nationwide in terms of total weekly listeners (69.8 million listeners aged 12+) and third in total audience share (7.6% for listeners 12+), behind only Country and News/Talk. In the PPM markets it leads all other formats in audience share among both Millennial listeners (18-to-34) and 25-54 year-olds. However, tune-in during the opening month of 2018 was the lowest on record for Pop CHR in PPM measurement, following the trends set in 2017, the lowest overall year for Pop CHR, particularly among Millennials. While CHR still has a substantial lead with Millennials (Country ranked second in January with 8.4%), it will be interesting to track the fortunes of Pop CHR as the year goes on, and music cycles and audience tastes continue to shift.

This is the hit radio audience share trend in pop contemporary:

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 6.23.03 PM.png

And, consequently, radio ad revenues have essentially flattened. And if Spotify has its way, the “flattening” will veer downward:

With our Ad-Supported Service, we believe there is a large opportunity to grow Users and gain market share from traditional terrestrial radio. In the United States alone, traditional terrestrial radio is a $14 billion market, according to BIA/Kelsey. The total global radio advertising market is approximately $28 billion in revenue, according to Magna Global. With a more robust offering, more on-demand capabilities, and access to personalized playlists, we believe Spotify offers Users a significantly better alternative to linear broadcasting.

One company’s disruptive revenue-siphoning is another company’s bankruptcy. Now THAT’s “savage.”


PETITION LLC is a digital media company focused on disruption from the vantage point of the disrupted. We publish an a$$-kicking weekly Member briefing on Sunday mornings and a non-Member "Freemium" briefing on Wednesday. You can subscribe HERE and follow us on Twitter HERE.

Is Digital Media in Trouble?

Don't Sleep on Digital Media "Distress"

Last week we announced that we'll be rolling out our Founding Member subscription program in early '18. The response was overwhelmingly positive with many of you reaching out and essentially saying "what took you so long." That warmed our heart: thank you! We look forward to educating and entertaining you well into the future. The timing fortuitously dovetails into a general narrative about the state of digital media today. 

For instance, is it fair to characterize Mashable as a distressed asset sale? Well, the company - once valued at $250mm - is reportedly being sold to Ziff Davis, the digital media arm of J2 Global Inc., for just $50mm. So, what happened? New capital for media companies has dried up (unless, apparently, you're Axios) amidst weakness in the ad-based business model. With Google ($GOOGL) and Facebook ($FB) dominating ads to the point where even Twitter ($TWTR) and Snapchat ($SNAP) are having trouble competing, digital media brands are feeling the heat. Bloomberg highlights that at least a half dozen online media companies - from Defy Media (Screen Junkies, Made Man, Smosh) to Uproxx Media (BroBible) - are also considering sales to bigger platforms. Indeed, in an apparent attempt to de-risk, Univision is ALREADY reportedly trying to offload a stake in the Gawker sites it recently bought out of bankruptcy.

Which is not to say that bigger platforms are killing it too: the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that both Buzzfeed and Vice will miss internal revenue targets this year. Oath, which is Yahoo and AOLbinned 560 people this week. Of course, those in the distressed space know that one's pain is another's gain. To point, Bloomberg quotes Bryan Goldberg, founder of Bustle, saying "Small and more challenged digital media companies have been hit hard. This is a time for companies with cash flow and capital to start acquiring the more challenged digital assets." That sounds like the mindset of a distressed investor: the buyside and sellside TMT (telecom/media/technology) bankers must be licking their chops. Back to restructuring, these sorts of mandates may be decent consolation prizes for those professionals not lucky enough to be involved with the imminent bankruptcies of (MUCH larger and obviously different) media companies like Cumulus Media ($CMLS) and iHeartMedia Inc. ($IHRT), both of which are coming close to bankruptcy (footnote: click the iHeartMedia link and tell us that that headline isn't dangerous in the age of 280-characters!). For instance, Mode Media is an example of a digital media property that failed last year despite at one time having a "unicorn" valuation (based on $250mm in funding), a near IPO, and tens of thousands of users. It sold for "an undisclosed sum" (read: for parts) in an assignment for the benefit of creditors. Scout Media Inc. filed for bankruptcy in December of last year and sold in bankruptcy to an affiliate of CBS Corporation for approximately $9.5mm. Not big deals, obviously, but there are assets to be gained there. And fees to be made. 

In response, (some) digital media brands are looking more and more to subscribers and less and less to advertisers in an effort to survive. Longreads' "Member Drive," for example, drummed up $140,760 which, crucially, it'll use to pay writers for quality long-form content. Ben Thompson has turned Stratechery into a money-making subscription-only service; he told readers that they're funding his curiosity and their education. Indeed, his piece this past week on Stitch Fix ($SFIX) may have, in fact, impacted sentiment on the company's S-1 and, in turn, the company's IPO price. These are only two of many examples but, suffice it to say, the "Subscription Economy" is on the rise

Which is all to say that our path is clear. And we look forward to having you along for the ride. Please tell your friends and colleagues to subscribe TODAY: existing subscribers will get a preferential rate.