Centric Brands Inc: Credit Coverage Initiated

We are initiating our credit coverage of Centric Brands Inc. with a rating of CCR 3, dating back to the IIQ 2019. At that time, Ares Capital (ARCC) discounted the value of its $24.6mn equity stake in the company by (24%), from par in the prior period. Given that the company is publicly traded (ticker: CTRC) that reflects a declining stock price, which was as high as $5.33 a share in mid-March. By the end of June CTRC was at $4.11. As we write this on December 28, 2019, the stock price has halved since the summer to $2.15.

Admittedly, most of the substantial BDC exposure of $123.8mn at cost is in the form of Term debt due in 2023, held by the afore mentioned ARCC, TCW Direct Lending and Garrison Capital (GARS). That debt has been valued very close to par since first being booked and remains so in late December, according to Advantage Data’s records.

Nonetheless, even a quick glance at the company’s 10-Q is enough to elicit credit concern. The company is fast growing, thanks to acquisitions in 2018 and 2019, but debt levels are very high and getting higher. We note that Adjusted EBITDA, as reported in the latest 10-Q for the first 9 months of 2019, was given as $122mn. Interest expense – which admittedly includes Pay-In-Kind income – was $142mn…The ‘comprehensive loss” over the same 9 month period was ($171mn). Yes, we know investors are too clever to take GAAP accounting as the be-all in this brave new world of adjusted numbers but that’s still a lot to swallow.

Notwithstanding the apparent complacency of the debt markets, the BDC Credit Reporter is worried about the leverage levels. Our concern is heightened because the amount of total BDC exposure is so high, especially for ARCC and TCW Direct Lending. Any sort of stumble by the company could materially impact book value and investment income earned. Nor should debt holders take too much comfort from the “first lien senior secured” appellation of the $99mn in term debt held by the BDCs. Sitting above them in order of priority is a secured Revolver – led by ARCC as administrative agent – and many of the company’s trade receivables are being sold off in a different financing facility.

We expect that we’ll be updating readers multiple times in the year ahead given that Centric is a public company and every quarter brings a new snapshot of performance. We’ll also keep an eye on stock and debt price performance, even if we don’t fully trust the credit antennas of the latter in the current frothy and generous market conditions.