Private Equity Backed Retail is in the Dumps
"No Reason to Exist" - Restructuring Banker
Big news this week was CNBC's report that Toys R' Us hired Kirkland & Ellis LLP to complement Lazard ($LAZ) in a potential restructuring transaction.* This was followed by an S&P downgrade (firewall). This is "Death by self-commoditization," someone said. Sure, that's part of it but the more obvious and immediate explanation is the $5+ billion of debt the company is carrying on its balance sheet (and the millions of dollars of annual interest payments). Which, naturally, quickly gets us to private equity: KKR ($KKR), Bain and Vornado Realty Trust ($VNO) own Toys R' Us and so some are quick to blame those PRIVATE EQUITY shops for YET ANOTHER retailer hitting the skids. Post-LBO, this company simply never could grow into its capital structure given (i) the power of the big box retailers (e.g., Walmart ($WMT) & Target ($TGT)) and (ii) headwinds confronting specialty brick-and-mortar retail today (yeah, yeah, blah, blah, Amazon). That said, the gravity of the near-term maturity, the company's current cash position, and the bond trading levels don't necessarily scream imminent bankruptcy. There must be more to this. Speculating here, but this could just be an international value grab. Alternatively, given the tremendous amount of blood in the (retail) waters, we're betting that suppliers are squeezing the company. Badly. Like very badly. And/or maybe the company is trying to scare its landlords into concessions. We mean, seriously, we're in September. And the company is talking about bankruptcy NOW? Mere months from peak (holiday) toy shopping? Strikes us as odd. Someone has an agenda here.
On a positive note, we want to give the company some credit: it tried its best to control the narrative by releasing its list of must-have toys for the holidays on the same day the Kirkland news "leaked."
*For anyone taking notes, this is a genius stroke of business development by Lazard: pinpoint a potential distressed corporate candidate and then poach that company's Vice President of Corporate Finance. Power. Move. We dig it.