Bluestem Brands Inc. : Files Chapter 11

After many quarters of balancing on the brink, Bluestem Brands Inc. has filed for Chapter 11. In a press release, the retailer indicated its commitment to remaining in business through the bankruptcy process, and the arrangement of a $125mn DIP financing by a “syndicate of lenders”. The “syndicate” is also serving as a “stalking horse bidder” for the company’s assets, and seeks to de-leverage and restructure the company’s balance sheet.  

Who are the members of the syndicate ? Not disclosed. What might the assets be valued at ? Not mentioned ? How much debt might be wiped from the balance sheet ? Still to be determined. Nonetheless, this seems to be a classic debt-for-equity swap where the lenders become part, majority or the exclusive owners of the new Bluestem Brands. Sometimes that works, and sometimes not.

We’ve been writing about Bluestem Brands for a very long time, both in the BDC Credit Reporter and in our database of all under performing BDC companies that we maintain. Barely a week ago we wrote to ourselves the following summation of our views:”3/4/2020: We worry that Bluestem might be about to meet its moment of reckoning in 2020 with the need to repay its publicly traded Term Loan in November 2020 and its modest liquidity above the mandated level at the end of the IIQ 2019. Sales and EBITDA trends are either anemic or negative. The debt is already discounted by nearly a quarter. As a result, we’ve added the company to the 2020 At Risk Of Non Accrual  list.”  

Now that’s happened we’ll be interested to see what the 4 BDCs with $28.2mn of exposure at cost  – Main Street (MAIN); Capitala Finance (CPTA); Monroe Capital (MRCC) and non-listed HMS Income – will be doing. We imagine they are committed to a portion of the DIP financing and are likely to end up as owners, and may also be committing more junior capital. As mentioned above, we don’t know how much historical debt will be forgiven. So any sort of valuation is hard , but Advantage Data shows the 2020 Term debt in which all the BDCs are invested trading at a (29%) discount; just slightly worse than the recently announced IVQ 2019 (25%) discount announced by the three public BDCs. That suggests, but does not guarantee, the eventual realized loss to be taken might be over ($8mn). In an earlier article, though, we’d been estimating ($15mn). More immediately, income forgone will be about ($1.4mn) annually, mostly absorbed (4/5ths) by sister BDCs: MAIN and HMS Income

We will report back as we learn more about how this bankruptcy will play out, and what individual BDC exposures to old and new capital (if any) will look like. 

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.

Bluestem Brands: Reports Weaker IIQ 2019 Results

We’ve written about Bluestem Brands before on two occasions, on April 12, 2019 and June 19, 2019. Now the multi-name retailer – whose results are publicly made available every quarter – has just completed its IIQ 2019 results. Unfortunately, the turnaround at Bluestem continues, and there are signs that the situation is getting a little worse. We won’t undertake an in-depth diagnosis, although we’ve reviewed both the earnings press release and the Conference Call transcript.

We’ll focus on a key metric – and one of two material debt covenants. Required minimum liquidity – demanded by the senior lenders – is $40mn. This quarter, Bluestem had $50mn, down from $59mn the prior quarter. That’s pretty close, and principally why we’re writing this update.

We have a Corporate Credit Watch of 4 (Worry List) for the company, which has been “troubled” since 2016. The latest results don’t change our rating, but we continue to worry that the company is just one reverse away from a covenant default. That would not be the end of the world, but might suggest the attempt to turnaround the business with its current capital structure is unfeasible. That might involve some debt haircut in some form. Given BDC exposure of $29mn – already discounted – by (23%) by 3 of the 4 BDCs, there could be some further Unrealized Losses to come in the short term.

(We should point out that – for reasons unknown – Capitala Finance (CPTA has only a (4%) discount on its share of the 2020 senior debt, one sixth of what Main Street Capital (MAIN), HMS Income and Monroe Capital (MRCC) have valued the same exposure. There’s been a deviation between CPTA and the other BDCs for several quarters, and we don’t know why. If matters do get worse, CPTA – with $3.7mn of debt at cost – has the farthest to fall).

Bluestem Brands: Reports Latest Results

On June 18, 2019 multi-unit retailer Bluestem Brands reported results for the quarter ended May 3, 2019. We reviewed the earnings press release, and the Conference Call transcript on Sentieo (not yet linkable).  Notwithstanding lower sales in the period compared to a year earlier, the company reported progress in “turning around” the business in several areas. Adjusted EBITDA was barely positive but that’s an improvement over ($12.6mn) a year earlier. Most importantly, from a credit standpoint the company was nowhere near triggering the several key metrics imposed by its senior lenders. Nonetheless, the burden of total debt has remained unchanged over the past several quarters, and its principal Term debt becomes due in late 2020. We have a CCR 4 Credit Rating, which remains unchanged. There are 4 BDCs with $29mn in exposure – all in the 2020 Term debt. In the IQ 2019, the unrealized depreciation was reduced in the BDC valuations and may receive a modest boost in the IIQ, based on these results. Nonetheless, the retailer is far from being out of the woods.

Bluestem Brands: Reports Unaudited Consolidated Fourth Quarter Fiscal 2019 Earnings Results

The troubled e-commerce retailer published quarterly and annual results for the period ended February 1 and 2, 2019.  Despite closing down several brands and taking one-time losses, the Company’s Adjusted EBITDA and key bank covenants, as well as liquidity, all appear better. May stop the gradual erosion in BDC debt values underway since late 2016, which peaked in IVQ 2018. We updated the Company file and the BDC Credit Reporter’s views accordingly. For all the details, see the Company File.