At JC Penney, Gap, Macy's, 342,000 Jobs Are at Risk

J.Crew has declared bankruptcy, as had been expected. Its e-commerce operation will stay open. It is too early to say what happens to its brick-and-mortar workers. Three other retailers face horrible odds. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP), Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) and Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) are all on the ropes. Each has different access to capital, each has shuttered stores, and their fates depend on how long the economy is shut down. Among them, they employ 342,000 people, about the number of workers the U.S. economy added in a strong month in 2019.

J.C. Penney is in the most trouble. Its stock trades at $0.28 per share, which is down 91% from two years ago. Its debt holders have begun to discuss Chapter 11. They need to find enough assets to protect their interests. It is still an open question whether that will happen. Recently, the company said its stores would continue to be closed, and it laid off almost all its hourly workers. J.C. Penney has 850 stores. The odds are high that some of its 90,000 workers will never come back.

The Gap has fewer immediate financial problems than J.C. Penney, but if most of its stores stay closed for many more months, it will run very low on money. The company closed its Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Janie and Jack and Intermix stores across North America. Most employees at these locations were laid off. The company strengthened its balance sheet with $2.25 billion in senior secured notes. Some of the notes carry interest rates as high as 8.875%. If the Gap can reopen stores, that debt will be a huge drag. The Gap does business in 90 counties, but the core of that business is in North America. Investors are highly skeptical about the turnaround. They have dragged the stock down 79% in the past two years and 55% in the past three months. The Gap has 129,000 workers.

Macy’s might be the best prepared, financially, to emerge from the damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company will reopen its 775 stores in five weeks. Macy’s owns the Bloomingdale’s and the Bluemercury brands. Even Macy’s CEO says he does not know how quickly customers return. As he knows, some may never return. Most outsiders believe that, to survive, Macy’s will have to become a smaller company. The market has been cruel to Macy’s. Its shares are down 83% in the past year and 67% lower in the past three months. Macy’s has 123,000 workers.

Some workers at these companies will lose their jobs permanently. Each of these retailers will need to close underperforming stores to survive. That means many on their staffs will become part of the unemployment statistics.

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