A year ago, not many people would have thought Circuit City would be in bankruptcy now. Linens ‘n Things, Mervyn’s, Whitehall Jewelers and Steve & Barry’s have either shut down or are closing huge numbers of locations since they moved into Chapter 11.
The most astonishing fact about the retail industry now is that the environment has gotten much worse than it was when each of these businesses began to fail. Sales at stores across the country will be down this holiday season. Some analysts believe that the numbers will be as bad as for any fourth quarter in thirty-five years.
Adding to the problem of slow consumer spending brought on by the recession is an unprecedented liquidity crisis. Retailers who need access to capital for inventory, rent, and personnel costs are finding that it is nearly impossible to get access to funds without a pristine balance sheet and a history of substantial positive cash flow.
These troubles point to a number of other retail chains going out of business between now and early next year. Sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which is considered the bellwether of holiday sales, will determine the fate of several companies which are now viewed as the weakest operators in the industry.
Here is a list of ten companies which may well not make it if their sales drop by double digits this holiday season compared to last:
1. Bon-Ton Stores (BONT) trades at $1.13, down from a 52-week high of $15.06. That probably says all that needs to be said, but there is more. Over its last three fiscal quarters BONT has lost $82 million. In the latest quarter, same-store sales were off over 8% and total revenue was down 7% to $725 million. The company has interest expense of $25 million. BONT says that its revolving credit facility will get it through any cash crunch. Maybe. With long-term debt of $2.5 billion and $374 million in accounts payable, there is not much margin for error. The company needs an outstanding holiday season.
2. Dillard’s (DDS) is a retail operator that really is in trouble. It has 318 stores, which makes it a relatively small operation in a world dominated by outfits like Sears (SHLD) which has more than 3000 locations. Dillard’s stock is at $3.75, down from a 52-week high of $23.11. S&P dropped the company’s credit rating recently and said, “The rating change reflects our belief that the company will be more challenged than previously expected by the current weak economic environment in the U.S., and that credit metrics will deteriorate more than we had originally projected.” In October, the firm’s sales dropped more than 9% to $406 million. Dillard’s points to its revolving credit facility with JP Morgan as its lifeline. In the last quarter, the company lost $38 million. It made $45 million in debt services payments and has long-term debt of $807 million. In other words, no dry powder. It recently cut staff.
3. Talbots (TLB) is another struggling operator. It recently announced that it would try to sell its J. Jill brand. This operation has 383 of Talbots 878 stories. It would be an understatement to say a company would part with that much of its operation if it did not need the money. And, TLB does. Its shares are at $2.68, down from a 52-week high of $17.97. Research house Friedman, Billings, Ramsey recently predicted that the chain would cut its dividend to save money. In the last quarter, TLB lost $15 million. Revenue fell from $414 million in the period a year ago to $357 million in the most recent quarter. Talbots has $212 million in long-term debt. It can’t afford to have sales fall another $50 million this holiday quarter. Recently, it improved working capital agreements.
4. Pier 1’s (PIR) shares are on sale for $.50. A little less than a year ago they would have cost $8.25, making this a remarkable write-down. PIR said its Q3 same-store sales would be down as much as 18%. The firm says it has a $325 million credit facility, but the stock market clearly thinks that is inadequate. The company’s guidance for the quarter sent shareholders running for the exits. In the last quarter, revenue fell 7% and the company lost $30 million. Pier 1 pulled its guidance because it believes it cannot predict how much the retail market will deteriorate. With $183 million in debt, it won’t take much to tip Pier 1 into insolvency. UBS recently cut its price target on the shares.
5. Cost Plus (CPWM) recently released earnings, and they looked grim. Among other things, the chain said same-store sales could drop 6% in the current quarter. The 296-store retailer predicted poor revenue of as little as $356 million for the period. In the quarter just past, revenue was flat at $213 million and Cost Plus lost $26 million. The firm has $146 million in long-term debt and obligations. Cost Plus pointed out that its credit line borrowings peaked at $125 million in November, well under the limit of the $200 million credit facility. But, that does not leave much room for the company to miss its numbers. The stock trades at $1, down from a 52-week high of $6.22.
6. Williams-Sonoma (WSM) operates 600 stores. The company is doing badly enough that Barclays Capital recently said that it may violate financial covenants on its $300 million credit facility. The retailer made a sharp downward revision in its forecasts. It said it would lose as much as $.12 a share in the third quarter against its previous projection of as much as a $.04 profit. It took its revenue forecast down as low as $732 million. The earlier projection had sales as high as $820 million. WSM also made extremely sharp cuts in its projections for the fourth quarter. Lenders take loan covenants more seriously in a recession than during other periods. WSM has to beat its numbers or face a chance of its lenders pushing for remedies. The CEO recently forced to sell over 60% of shares due to financial obligations.
7. Chico’s FAS (CHS) trades fairly close to its cash value, a sign that the market thinks that operations are going to burn into that nest egg. The company’s stock trades at $2.58, down from a 52-week high of $11.68, showing that the market does not have many believers in the company. In October, the chain’s same-store sales were off over 13%. For the month, revenue dropped 5% to $394 million. In the last quarter, revenue dropped 5% to $394 million. Net income was $2 million, down from $24 million in the same quarter a year ago. The company had $278 million in cash and securities. But, it cannot sustain double-digit drops in same-store sales indefinitely. The company recently entered into a new credit agreement to help its capital position.
8. Fitch recently cut its ratings on Saks (SKS) to “B” from “B+”, hardly investment grade. The retailer has debt of $649 million. In the last quarter, Saks same-store sales were off almost 12% and got progressively worse as each month in the period went by. Like other weak retailers, Saks is in a race to improve sales and earnings before its debt catches up to it. The firm’s stock has dropped to $3.56 from a 52-week high of $22.19. In the last quarter, Saks lost $43 million. In its statement about its financial situation, the company said it believes it has ample flexibility under its existing debt facilities. If Saks’ drop-off in revenue continues from last quarter’s rate of 12% or gets considerably worse over the holidays, the chain could have a very difficult time keeping all of its stores open.
9. Eddie Bauer’s (EBHI) shares trade for $.97, down from a 52-week high of $8.72. The company recently reported an operating loss of $17 million. Revenue dropped slightly to $207 million. The firm has almost 400 stores and outlets. The worst bit of news is that, as of the end of the last quarter, EBHI had only $3 million in cash. It has a $192 million senior term note and $27 million in short term borrowing. It would be nearly impossible to convince investors that EBHI will make it well into next year if sales are poor this holiday season
10. Rite Aid (RAD) is an example of a company that proved the old maxim, “what can go wrong, will go wrong”. Its shares are at $.41, down from a 52-week high of $4.72. Rite Aid is bloated with over 5,000 stores, some of which are certainly losing money. The pharmacy company has competition from huge operators including Wal-Mart (WMT). The firm has a massive debt load of $6.1 billion. Rite Aid says that refinancing the load may help its prospects. A Raymond James analyst recently said, “Rite Aid has the worst balance sheet of any company I follow.” In the quarter ending August 30, the company’s loss rose to $222 million and its integration of its Brooks and Eckerd drugstore chains appears to be going very badly. Rite Aid also cut forecasts due to “economic weakness”. This kind of weakness usually leads to death.
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