Retail Happenings of the Week

Millennials don't like brands. No news there. But this piece about the rise of no-name attire has some projections that furthers the "Amazon Effect" narrative ((and helps explain the seemingly ludicrous Kroger Inc. ($K) clothing line)). "This year Amazon will leapfrog T.J. Maxx owner TJX Cos. and Macy’s Inc. to become the second-biggest seller of apparel and footwear in the U.S., Wells Fargo estimates." And "In some categories—like the active wear that Americans increasingly wear all day, whether or not they hit the gym—private labels combined account for 20 percent of the market, according to researcher NPD." Short Lululemon ($LULU)? Addition reason (see above) to short TJ Maxx ($TJX)?

If this stresses you out, at least you can double down on discounted protein and work off the anxiety, given the look of GNC Holdings Inc. ($GNC). What does this all mean for the malls? Not a whole lot of good. Hence, mud. Though some beg to differ to the tune of $25b.

Some predictions for 2018. The most obvious of which is that there'll be more retail bankruptcies to come in 2018. Just (maybe?) not Charlotte Russe, which has seemingly pulled off a miracle and kept itself out of bankruptcy court with a consensual deal with its lenders in hand. Last note: while "treasure hunt" retailers may not be impervious to Amazon, Costco Wholesale Corporation ($COST) very well may be: it reported a 17% increase in earnings, a 42.1% increase in e-commerce sales and steady membership rates. The stock popped nicely going into week's end.


Already-distressed grocers like Bi-Lo Holdings and Fresh Market were already dealing with the threat of increased competition from Amazon when Hurricane Irma swept through and hammered them. Apollo Global Management reportedly has extended a 6% unsecured $50mm bridge loan to Fresh Market to help keep it afloat. Meanwhile Bi-Lo is advisored to the hilt and seems headed towards some kind of restructuring. Tops Friendly Markets also has secured debt trading at distressed levels. While Kroger announced somewhat flat guidance going forward, it acknowledged an expected fall in earnings as price wars heat up with Amazon and foreign encroachers like Aldi and Lidl; it also announced that it hired Goldman Sachs to explore a sale of its convenience store business. While the stock traded up on the news, it is still down nearly 37% since the WholeFoods news. There will be winners and losers in this space and it seems increasingly likely to shake out quickly. 

Incredulous: Meal Kits as Savior for Grocers? C'mon.

Are Meal Kits Kroger's Defense Against Amazon? 

This makes no sense: "to compete with Amazon, grocers could start purchasing meal kit companies" (CNBC). Wait. What? Right, because all of the meal kit companies have demonstrated sustainability and profitability. CNBC states, "Some meal kit companies seem receptive to the idea." Hahaha. Of course they are! CNBC neglects to highlight Blue Apron's ($APRN) post-IPO chart but, suffice it to say, it ain't exactly pretty. That said, when your numbers look like those put out by Kroger ($KR) this week, maybe desperate times call for desperate measures. 

News for the Week of 01/29/17

  • Artificial Intelligence. Throw the phrase "AI-based" in front of anything and all of the sudden it's like gold. Including retail. We're pretty sure we'll start seeing established companies start rebranding to curtail further devolution, e.g., or Macy' After all, we have MacGuyver back on TV and Luke Skywalker back in the theaters...might as well get nostalgic for .com-style frenzy. 
  • Boutique IBanking. An interesting review of the stock performance of one of the original public boutique investment banking firms out there: Greenhill & Co
  • Coal. Longview Power CEO Jeff Keffer's assessment of the industry. TL; least under Trump there's a chance...
  • Conflicts. Believe it or not, conflicts DO exist in bankruptcy court. We're just as shocked as you, but in the Transtar bankruptcy cases, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP submitted a motion seeking to withdraw from the case after it determined that "in responding to requests by the Examiner in the course of its investigation, WF&G's own interests may conflict with the interests of the Debtors, or create an appearance of such a conflict." Pinch us. Jones Day LLP is apparently taking Willkie's place for the debtors.
  • Hedge funds. This about sums it up: "No matter what initial capital you give the hedge fund to start with, the hedge fund will become richer than you since its real talent is transferring your wealth into its coffers..."  Indeed, with 2/20, a hedge fund making 10% will make more money than its investors in 17 years.
  • Malls. We probably give the impression that we really love to shop given all of the mall talk lately. But, c'mon, you can talk to us until you're blue in the face about A Malls and C Malls but the truth is that A-LL malls are looking increasingly screwed. There are so many experiential possibilities. 
  • Neiman Marcus as a High Yield Sinkhole. The debt is plummeting: some holders are hitting eject on high yield retailers. And more concerns about liquidity in the bond market.
  • Taxis. So, the Uber effect is contagious? Seemingly so. Capital One Financial holds a distressed (and distressing) taxi medallion lending portfolio. Ugly chart here. Clearly the business traveler has embraced non-taxi options.
Natural gas price projections.

Natural gas price projections.