When we last wrote about California Pizza Kitchen (“CPK”) in December of last year, we said the following about the company and the sector in which it operates: “We will say that we’ve been concerned about negative trends in the restaurant sector since late 2018. We’re not yet at the “apocalypse” phase attached to anything in the retail sector, but there are several secular trends …that even the best and the brightest restaurant chains are having trouble working through. When you’ve got debt to EBITDA levels of 7x or more – as is the case with CPK and many others – the room for maneuver before a restructuring becomes necessary is limited“. We rated CPK a Corporate Credit Rating of 3.
Of course, in the interim we have moved into an “apocalypse” phase for eateries. Not surprisingly, an already weakened and highly leveraged CPK is not faring well. According to the Wall Street Journal on April 23, 2020 , the company has hired restructuring firm Alvarez & Marsal Holdings LLC, along with Guggenheim Partners, to facilitate deal talks with its lender. On the other side the lenders have hired FTI Consulting Inc. and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to represent them legally. Now we know – at least – that big fees are going to get paid out by the company…
The situation is very serious, with the two Term loans in which $48.2mn of BDC exposure is invested – one maturing in 2022 and the other in 2023 – are trading in the syndicated markets at discounts of (65%) and (85%) respectively. Not to beat about the bush, we project that a drastic restructuring or a Chapter 11 filing is imminent. We are downgrading CPK to a CCR 4 rating and adding them to our Weakest Link list of companies we expect to shortly move to non accrual.
For the 6 BDCs involved that will mean – if not already happening – an interruption of over $4mn of annual investment income and potential realized losses of ($30mn-$40mn). Unfortunately, the challenges facing eat-in restaurants are not going away any time soon and the delivery business cannot make up for the switch up in how customers feed themselves.
The biggest BDC exposure in dollar terms is that of Main Street Capital (MAIN), with $14mn in the first lien 2022 Term Loan. Capital Southwest (CSWC) and Monroe Capital (MRCC) are also holders of the 2022 loan. However, likely to take it most on the chin from a write-off standpoint are Capitala Finance (CPTA) with $4.9mn invested at cost and Great Elm Corporation (GECC) ($4.0mn) , which are both in the 2023 second lien debt. If past is prolog, the chances are high a complete write-off is in the cards for the 2023 Term Loan holders. (GECC also holds a position in the first lien). We expect some sort of debt for equity swap will be the ultimate resolution as CPK continues to have a viable – albeit shrunken business model. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though, and will wait to hear how the dueling advisers hash out a plan for the restaurant chain.