Bluestem Brands: Drops Rating and Downgraded

Just in case you didn’t know, it’s the companies themselves who pay for their credit ratings from groups like Moody’s and S&P. (That’s different than at the BDC Credit Reporter, whom nobody pays). We were reminded of this economic fact of life on hearing that Moody’s has “withdrawn’ the ratings of retailer Bluestem Brands. The rating firm – usually prone to long discussions in its regular credit reports – was succinct on this occasion: “Moody’s has decided to withdraw the ratings because of inadequate information to monitor the ratings due to the issuer’s decision to cease participation in the rating process“. No other explanation was given.

Apparently S&P Global has not been any kind of succor. That rating group downgraded the company on January 28, 2020 to CCC- from CCC..Here’s the crux of the matter as S&P sees it: “

Bluestem’s revolver and term loan are due this year and we believe the likelihood that the company will undertake a restructuring in the near term has increased.  The company’s $200 million asset-based lending (ABL) facility matures in July and its term loan (roughly $400 million outstanding) comes due on Nov. 7, 2020. In our view, Bluestem does not have a clear refinancing plan and we believe it is increasingly likely that the company will pursue a holistic debt restructuring to address its maturities given its weak operating performance. If the company pursues a restructuring or exchange that provides its lenders with less than they were originally promised under the security, we would view it as distressed and tantamount to a default”.

We’ve written on three earlier occasions about Bluestem, starting back in the spring of 2019. As far back as June 2019, we had a Corporate Credit Rating of 4 on the company – on our five point scale. More recently, when we began projecting out which BDC-financed under-performing companies were most likely to default in 2020, Bluestem was one of our first additions. Now there seems to be a consensus building that the company will not be able to avoid either a “distressed debt exchange” or a Chapter 11 filing in the months ahead.

For the 4 BDCs involved – all in the 2020 Term Loan, which is structurally subordinated to the Revolver (as far as we can tell) – that’s bad news. Not helping is that S&P is only projecting a 45% recovery rate in event of default. That implies ultimate losses of over ($15mn) over cost, or about ($6mn) more than already provided for at September 30, 2019. Then there’s the $2.7mn of annual investment income at risk of interruption…

We expect to be revisiting Bluestem – and its intractable balance sheet inside a retail sector in seemingly permanent crisis – before long.