Sequential Brands: Charged With Accounting Fraud

The BDC Credit Reporter has written multiple articles about publicly traded Sequential Brands (SQBG) over the last two years. There are five different updates in the archives. In the past, we were mostly concerned about the consumer brands conglomerate’s liquidity. Now the company, it’s shareholders and creditors face a new challenge: charges by the SEC that the company did not properly account for goodwill.

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, charges Sequential with violating antifraud, reporting, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws and seeks injunctive relief and civil monetary penalties”.

As reported previously, there are three BDCs with exposure to the company, of which two have outsized amounts outstanding – mostly in first lien debt due in 2024: FS KKR Capital II (FSKR) and FS KKR Capital (FSK), with $218mn and $61mn respectively invested at cost. Far behind in terms of dollars – but invested in second lien debt is Apollo Investment (AINV) with $13mn.

For our part, we had recently upgraded Sequential from CCR 4 to CCR 3 in mid-year 2020 as our concerns about weak liquidity and a potential restructuring or bankruptcy seemed overblown at a time when the BDCs themselves (through IQ 2020) were valuing their debt almost at par. We had removed the company from our Weakest Links list as well.

Still, back on September 2, 2020 we wrote in our internal notes: “We wonder – after reviewing the IIQ 2020 results again – whether we were wise to upgrade from CCR 4 to CCR 3 following the IQ 2020 valuations. We may have allowed ourselves to be taken in by the almost knee jerk optimistic valuation of BDC lenders/investors when facing a major exposure. For example, AINV’s second lien debt is discounted but -5%. Regrets. We may have a few“.

Now we’re back to downgrading Sequential to CCR 4 again. It’s not just the SEC charges – which do not seem to have fazed shareholders. We also note that the Board has announced its intention to explore “strategic alternatives“. Furthermore, we’ve noticed that the FS KKR BDCs have been increasing their discount of the first lien debt in the last two quarters. At September 30, 2020 the discount was (15%). (AINV discounts its more junior debt only -4%).

Taken together, this is worrying and given the aggregate size of BDC exposure – $292mn at cost and $25mn of annual interest income – worth paying attention to. FSKR and FSK shareholders should have a special interest in any outcome – especially a poor one. Given the “strategic alternatives” exploration, we may hear sooner rather than later about the direction of Sequential Brands.