Sequential Brands: Lender Appoints Board Members

Sequential Brands is the BDC Credit Reporter’s Godot. We’ve written multiple articles over the past two years breathlessly warning that something bad – a bankruptcy or a forced sale – was close to happening. Then: nothing. The company and their lenders always seem to arrive at a temporary modus vivendi, but no permanent resolution. (We’re desperately trying not to use the kicking of cans down the road analogy again). At times – given the high valuations the BDC lenders have maintained – we’ve doubted ourselves and the urgency of the situation.

However, the latest developments suggest – once again – that SOMETHING is going to occur at Sequential in the near future and that there is a possibility the BDCs – with $290.5mn outstanding in debt and equity to the company – may be materially impacted. Here’s what we know: According to a March 31, 2021 regulatory filing the company and one of its lender groups – led by Wilmington Trust – extended “a waiver of existing defaults under the Credit Agreement through April 19, 2021“. Furthermore, the lender “shall have the right to appoint an independent majority of the Board of Directors of the Company“. So gone is Martha Stewart and three other less famous Board members, probably letting out a sign of relief. Also a red flag: the company has not yet filed its IVQ 2020 and full year results.

The short extension period by Wilmington suggests that whatever “strategic alternatives” the company has been exploring since December 2020 is reaching some sort of conclusion. That might involve a sale of the business – in whole or in parts – or some pre-agreed Chapter 11 filing. The public shareholders seem to be bullish about this likely outcome, with Sequential trading at $22.22 as of the close on Thursday April 1, 2021. We are less optimistic – as is our self appointed mandate.

At risk for the BDCs involved is the prospect of ($28mn) of annual investment income from their 2024 Term debt outstanding being interrupted. Then there’s a good chance – based on the most recent quarterly valuations which discounts the equity owned by (99%) – a realized loss of up to ($10mn) will be incurred. However, the most important question mark is how the second lien debt will fare in the half billion dollar of borrowings Sequential owes. FS KKR Capital (FSK) and FS KKR Capital II (FSKR) and Apollo Investment (AINV) have advanced $280.5mn– more than half the total debt outstanding.

Currently, FSK and FSKR discount their debt by only (12%) and AINV by just (4%). If we apply the more conservative discount, that would still result in ($34mn) of realized losses on the debt and ($44mn) in total. The loss could be higher, but even ($44mn) is material given the big bets placed by the FS- KKR organization and which will shortly all be held by FSK, as FSKR is about to merge into its sister BDC. (AINV’s exposure is – clearly – much more modest even adjusting for the respective BDC sizes).

We should say – to be fair and recognizing that the stock market seems to believe that there is considerable market value left in Sequential – that this could all pass as quickly and harmlessly as a summer storm. Some deep pocketed buyer could be finalizing a generous deal as we write this or some hard working lawyers could be arranging a favorable “debt for equity swap” which will leave creditors undiminished. Maybe there’s a SPAC out there who wants to own a group of consumer brands…We don’t know, but we are as confident as we’ve been in two years that a change of status is in the cards for the company in the near future.

We are maintaining our CCR 4 rating on the company – as an eventual loss seems more likely than repayment in full. We are also adding Sequential to our Trending list because of the expectation that whatever is in the company’s future in the weeks ahead will be reflected in the BDC valuations and income – most probably in the IIQ 2021. For FSK especially this could either be a body blow, or not. We’ll be tracking the situation daily and will report back when something material occurs.