All Signs Point to the Big Box Retailer Being in Serious Trouble
This week AlixPartners LLC released its latest "Retail Viewpoint" and its "Monthly Retail and Economic Update." Both documents cover retail results from the ever-important holiday season. Alix says this in its preface:
"The year 2017 may have been one of apocalyptic headlines, but a lot of forecasts—including ours—still predicted that retailers would have a good holiday performance.
No one thought it would be this good.
According to advance and preliminary numbers from the US Census Bureau, retailers brought the noise this past holiday-shopping season. Core retail sales increased 6.3% over 2016's, blowing past the National Retail Federation's forecast—and ours too. Sales in November and December were absolutely explosive, accounting for 17.2% of annual sales, the largest percentage since 1999.
Every core retail sector performed significantly better than it did the rest of the year (figure 1). Not even public enemy number one—e-commerce pure plays—could stop other sectors from increasing 2.3% during the holiday season compared with the rest of 2017. There must have been a lot of happy little kids (and bigger kids) gathered 'round the tree, because the poster children of recession-era bankruptcies, electronics and sporting goods/hobby/book/music stores, had the largest increases of all: 7.4% and 4.7%, respectively."
While there may have been "a lot of happy little kids," we're guessing they were NOT "Toys R Us kids."
Consider this week's Toys R US-related operational news:
- The Washington Post reports that 182 stores will close, with CEO Dave Brandon acknowledging "operational missteps" during the holiday season. The article cites various issues including (i) confusion around the bankruptcy filing, (ii) fear of buying gifts that can't be returned, (iii) weak marketing, and (iv) ineffective email promotions. An analyst at BMO Capital Markets notes that holiday sales in North America were down more than 10%. On the bright side, Reuters reports that all 83 stores in Canada will remain open.
- Quartz notes that the company seeks permission to pay store closing bonuses to those employees who help the company wind down the aforementioned 182 stores (which, for the record, is roughly 20% of the US footprint). Notably, neither the company nor Quartz is estimating the sheer number of jobs these closings affect. But it will be a meaningful number. #MAGA!!
- Bloomberg reported that the company obtained court approval to pay landlords' fees and expenses related to the Chapter 11 case in exchange for additional time for the company to decide whether to assume or reject leases. Nerd alert: the bankruptcy code imposes a 210-day deadline for a company to decide a course of action vis-a-vis its non-residential real property leases. These promised payments were in exchange for an extension of that timeframe.
And consider, further, this week's Toys R Us-related financial news:
- Per RetailDive, Toys R Us won't release holiday sales results.
- Per Debtwire, Toys R Us circulated a limited holiday performance snapshot for its international enterprise. The report didn't include number after December 23. Yes, Christmas is on December 25.
We wonder: why the reluctance to release numbers? Our suspected answer: they must be ugly AF. In the period of October 29 - November 25, the company reported a net deficit (disbursements > receipts) of approximately $53mm. Later this week, we should see the company's monthly filing for the period covering Christmas. We don't like to speculate, but we can only imagine that the deficit will be even greater; we suspect that the company is burning cash like nobody's business. And we're wondering whether a liquidation of the US side of the business is out of the question given all of the "missed opportunities."
For now, what we KNOW is that - through no fault of its own - Alix' assessment is incomplete. The fine folks over there may want to amend their report after we hear more from Toys R Us in coming days.
By extension of the above - and now is as good a time as any to remind you that nothing we write should be construed as investment advice - we'd think it's also safe to assume that this Bloomberg piece about efforts by Hasbro Inc. ($HAS) and Mattel Inc. ($MAT) to innovate is, maybe, a wee bit too rosy. While, yes, they may be pivoting towards mobile and less dependence on brick-and-mortar, how many times have we heard that a transition is slower and harder than anticipated? That excuse is cited in virtually every retail "First Day Declaration" of the past two years. We don't have high hopes for Q4 reports (Mattel supposedly reports Q4 earnings on 2/1 followed by Hasbro on 2/7). Along those lines, Meisheng Cultural Co. may want to wait and see what happens to Jakks Pacific's ($JAKK) numbers before it overpays.
One last related note: Sphero, the Disney-backed ($DIS) maker of STEM toys like a robotic BB-8 that you can buy at...wait for it...TOYS R US, announced earlier this week that it was laying off 45 staff members globally "following a holiday season that failed to live up to expectations." Curious. Maybe it was too dependent upon a certain big box toy retailer?