California Pizza Kitchen: Files Chapter 11

On July 30, 2020 California Pizza Kitchen (aka CPK) filed for Chapter 11, as part of a broad restructuring plan (RSA) agreed with its first lien lenders. As readers will expect by now, the RSA envisages a “debt for equity swap” and additional financing to get the restaurant company through this difficult period, presumably financed by some or all those same lenders that are in the existing financing. CPK hopes to be in and out of bankruptcy in 3 months.

The BDC Credit Reporter has written about the company on three prior occasions. Our most recent contribution followed learning that several BDC lenders had placed their debt outstanding to the business on non accrual, but not all. In any case, bankruptcy has seemed like a forgone conclusion for some time. As a result, the seven BDCs involved (6 of whom are publicly traded) will have to face the consequences of their $48.1mn invested in the debt of CPK.

Common sense suggests the second lien debt holders : Great Elm Corporation (GECC) and Capitala Finance (CPTA) will have to write off the $4.1mn and $4.9mn respectively held. The rest of the debt is in first lien debt (including a tranche held by GECC) and will mostly become non income producing, when swapped for common shares. We expect the BDCs involved will write off 80% or more of their positions, but we’ll gather more details shortly. As usual in these situations, total exposure may increase as some of the lenders fund their share of the additional capital. For the record, the other BDCs involved are Main Street (MAIN); Capital Southwest (CSWC); Monroe Capital (MRCC) and Oaktree Specialty Lending (OCSL) ; as well as non traded TP Flexible Income with a tiny position.

CPK is – arguably an example of a “Second Wave” credit default. Admittedly, the company was already underperforming before Covid-19 but would likely not have had to file Chapter 11 if the virus had not occurred. As recently as the IIQ 2019 GECC – in a case of ill timing – bought into the second lien at a (5%) discount to par. Going forward, a much de-leveraged CPK should have a decent chance of survival, and may even thrive in the long run. This might allow the BDCs involved to recoup some of their capital but it’s going to be a long slog.

Currently, the BDC Reporter has rated CPK CCR 5 – or non performing – which remains unchanged. We’ll re-rate the company when the RSA – or some other outcome – is finalized. By the way, this is the ninth BDC-financed company to file for bankruptcy – all Chapter 11 – in the month of July, keeping up the blistering pace set in June.

California Pizza Kitchen: Second Lien Debt On Non Accrual

We’ve written about California Pizza Kitchen (or “CPK” to the world) on two prior occasions. Most recently, on April 23, 2020 we discussed the restaurant chain’s ambition to restructure its debt as both secular declines in its business which began some time ago and Covid-19 have made business conditions very difficult. Frankly, we were expecting a bankruptcy filing at any moment, but that has not happened. (That does not mean a Chapter 11 filing could not yet occur).

Now that IQ 2020 BDC results have been published we can see how the 6 different BDCs with exposure have valued their loans. We found that CPK’s first and second lien debt has been placed on non accrual by two of the BDCs and not by four others. Apparently, based on comments made by Monroe Capital Corp (MRCC) – which has not chosen to list the debt as non performing – there is a difference of views between the players. Also choosing to leave the debt on accrual is Main Street (MAIN); Great Elm (GECC) and TP Flexible Income. By contrast, CPTA Finance (CPTA) and Oaktree Specialty Lending (OCSL) have their debt positions marked as non-performing.

Total BDC exposure – spread over first and second lien term loans due in 2022- amounts to $43.3mn at cost. The debt is mostly discounted just under (50%) at FMV, but GECC does have a second lien position written down (78%), while CPTA has discounted its own debt in the same loan by (46%)…

The CPK example speaks to a wider phenomenon that’s always underway where BDC valuations are concerned: discrepancies both about what should be treated as a non accrual and fair value marks. However, the Covid-19 crisis has frequently accentuated the variations and over a much wider number of companies due to the greater degree of uncertainty. This makes taking any one valuation or accrual vs non accrual status too seriously until the credit markets settle down. That could take several quarters as the ratings groups are projecting credit troubles continuing at a heightened level through to 2021.

For our part, we have downgraded CPK from CCR 4 to CCR 5. (We tend to take the most conservative credit position). The company has been removed from the Weakest Links list of companies expected to default given that – as least in two cases – that has already happened. We still believe the chances of a bankruptcy filing are high given that full service restaurants will be challenged for some time and take-out cannot fully make up for business lost.

Update 6/2/2020: CSWC reported IQ 2020 results and placed CPK on non accrual but indicated on the conference call being impressed by management and multiple sources of income to mitigate Covid-19 impact.

California Pizza Kitchen: Seeks To Restructure Debt

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.

California Pizza Kitchen: Downgraded by Rating Groups

We pride ourselves on being timely about alerting readers to material new developments at under-performing BDC-financed companies. In this case, though, we’ve been slow to notice the deterioration underway at iconic restaurant chain California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). In July and August 2019, the company was downgraded by both S&P and Moody’s to speculative grade status. Here’s a sample of what the former said: “We are downgrading CPK to ‘CCC+’ from ‘B-‘ to reflect our view that the company’s capital structure may be unsustainable over the long term.

Moody’s said the following: “CPK’s Caa1 Corporate Family Rating is constrained by its high leverage, modest interest coverage, small scale and geographic concentration relative to comparable casual dining concepts. The company is further constrained by the challenging operating environment which includes soft same store sales growth, with weak traffic trends, and increased labor expense as a percentage of restaurant sales which continue to pressure profitability margins“.

All the above notwithstanding, the 2022 and 2023 Term debt in which seven BDCs have committed $48mn was still valued at a discount of less than (10%) last time results were published in September 2019. As of June 2019 the debt was trading (almost) at par. As of now, though, the publicly traded 2022 Term Loan is trading at a (12.5%-15%) discount, and the more junior 2023 facility at (20%) off. Time to get worried about the $5.0mn of annual investment income that is being generated for the BDCs involved.

There are 6 public BDCs with material exposure, led by Main Street (MAIN) and followed in descending dollar amount by Great Elm (GECC); Monroe Capital (MRCC); Capitala Finance (CPTA); Capital Southwest (CSWC) and Oaktree Specialty (OCSL) – a veritable potpourri of funds with little else in common. There does not seem to be any immediate risk of default, although Moody’s did suggest there was a potential need for a covenant waiver or amendment at year end. That may not have been required or has been granted or could be under discussion. We have a Corporate Credit Rating of 3 on CPK on our 5 point scale, but that could move down quickly in 2020 if performance does not turn around – which seems unlikely – or if PE owner Golden Gate Capital, which bought the famous chain in 2011, does not inject new capital.

We admit the BDC Credit Reporter has been a bit slow to flagging CPK’s credit troubles, but expect to hear much more from us in the months ahead if the company’s debt continues to drop in value. 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 – referred to by Moody’s above – 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.