Grocery (Short EVERYTHING). So much to unpack in grocery world this past week so here is a brief summary for you: WholeFoods ($WFN) CEO John Mackey called Jana Partners greedy bastards; food deflation trends continued albeit at a markedly slower rate which means that someone wickedly smart may just be timing grocery at a time when it starts benefiting from inflation (imagine that); a Nomura Instinet analyst said - on Thursday - that Amazon ($AMZN) will next disrupt the grocery space (weeks after Scott Galloway predicted something big in grocery); Wegman's announced same day delivery via partnership with Instacart; Kroger ($KR) announced its numbers won't meet guidance and the stock, already down 14% on the year, dipped another 20% (only to fall more a day later on this...); Amazon dropped an atomic bomb on everyone and initiated a $13.7b play for Wholefoods making those greedy bastards pretty damn happy bastards (and sending stocks of everyone else - including Kroger - into even more of a tailspin); people then got busy questioning the viability of Instacart (the goodwill from the Wegman's news instantly evaporated) and BlueApron and Hello Fresh and Costco ($COST) and, well, we could go on and on but suffice it to say that if the food-oriented company was private it will likely stay private longer and if its public then its stock got decimated (including big boxes like Target ($TGT) and Walmart ($WMT)). And we were really beginning to warm to the "How to Beat Amazon" think pieces that have been making the rounds. The real question is: how many bankruptcies in 2018 will mention Amazon as one of the reasons why...?
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 365, Wegmans and Fresh Market in high end malls. Other specific new tenants include restaurants (Fig & Olive, Nobu) 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 week, Vornado 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 Brands, Signet 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 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.
After reporting disappointing numbers this week, Urban Outfitters’ shares fell nearly 8% and its CEO, Richard Hayne noted that “[t]he U.S. market is oversaturated with retail space and far too much of that space is occupied by stores selling apparel. Retail square feet per capita in the United States is more than six times that of Europe or Japan. And this doesn’t count digital commerce. This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst. We are seeing the results: Doors shuttering and rents retreating. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future and may even accelerate.” Which is precisely why short sellers have their sights set on mall REITs - and not just the REITs with more class B and C malls, as we’ve long predicted. As the WSJ reported, short interest on Simon Property Group and GGP Inc. has jumped to near a record high. Apropos, we took a look at the rejection motions filed in Radio Shack 22.0 and noted that 6.4% of the locations slated for rejection are from the two aforementioned behemoths. Note, also, that both have been appointed to the official committee of unsecured creditors in BCBG. Allegedly, all of this destruction has landlords looking for alternative clientele for anchor slots including, it seems, grocers like Wegman’s and Aldi. Note: the previously-linked Fox Business/WSJ piece states as fact that “[g]rocers present an advantage for landlords because they are more resistant than traditional retailers to internet competition.” Really? We’ll ponder that as we munch on our fourth delicious Hello Fresh meal of the week.