Amazon Could Cause 400 Malls to Close

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If Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) continues to scorch the apparel industry, 400 of the nation’s 1,200 malls could close. The figure was issued by credit rating agency Fitch, which called its evaluation the “Intense Apparel Retail Stress Test.” That means, among other things, that the Fitch mainstream evaluation of the industry is not as bad.

The Fitch evaluation may be worse than its current rating of retailers and malls is, but the situations that would cause widespread mall closures are not far-fetched. They assume Amazon will take 25% of the retail apparel market by 2020, up from 7% this year. Amazon has dominated other retail sections quickly. Among those is a portion of consumer electronics, streaming media and, of course, books and e-readers. In other words, Amazon has ruined other retail segments before.

Fitch researchers in specific pointed out:

In this hypothetical scenario, Fitch assumes a major shift in the competitive landscape that would drive a revenue decline of 25% (approximately $60 billion) for all apparel-based brick-and-mortar retailers. This is accompanied by severe pressure on margins and large-scale store closings that impact mall REITs and retail-heavy CMBS transactions.

The usual list of failing retailers is the most likely to be crippled further, according to the analysis:

In this scenario, low- to midtier retailers such as J. C. Penney Company, Inc., Kohl’s Corporation and Dillard’s, Inc. would likely face the most intense competitive pressure, with 2019 EBITDA falling by 50% or more compared with 2016. All investment-grade department store retailers would be challenged to retain their investment-grade rating in this retail stress scenario (excluding management response), and several other smaller or already challenged apparel-focused retailers would face sharply elevated risks of financial distress.

Other retail industry experts have speculated that some of these companies will not even survive, at least financially. Their share prices have been decimated. Fitch has already cut credit ratings, most notably on Sears Holdings.

The fact that Fitch would even go through the exercise of looking at what is close to a “worst case” for mainstream retailers shows that even the most expert of experts believes that the industry could fall apart at an accelerated pace.