Troubled J.C. Penney raised its 2019 projected results, according to a news report on November 15, 2019. At the same time, same store sales continue to trend downward, and were even worse than expected. Glass half full or glass half empty ?
Interestingly, BDC exposure has increased in the IIIQ 2019 to $18.4mn, from $6.8mn. As so often happens in these troubled retail situations TPG Specialty (TSLX) has stepped up to lend more money in an asset-based loan to the company. TSLX has advanced $15.0mn and the rest is spread – in different facilities – over 3 FS-KKR non-traded BDCs: FSIC II, FSIC II and FSIC IV. All the BDCs involved mark their debt at or above par.
We’ll see in 2020 – following the critical 2019 Christmas season – whether this optimism is warranted.
S&P recently downgraded J.C. Penney – the iconic retailer – and now Fitch has joined suit. In this case, the rating for the company has dropped to “junk” status or CCC+ from B-. The reasons given are just what you’d expect. For our prior three articles on Penney’s, click here.
As we’ve explained previously, BDC exposure is modest and whatever happens will have little impact on the three non-listed FS-KKR BDCs involved, which are in the process of going public as a combined FS-KKR II. Also in there is TPG Specialty (TSLX), but with its asset-based status is not expected to lose any money under most possible scenarios.
Of course, Penney is just one example of the retail sector “apocalypse” that’s been going on for years in a long running burn of companies of all kinds. Currently we’ve identified 20 retail-related companies that are under-performing, with a cost of investments of $1.27bn. That’s probably not everyone caught up in this seismic change in how consumers and businesses shop, but captures all the names you’d expect and a few more. The BDC sector has taken a hit, and will continue to do so, but the damage has been spread out over more than two dozen BDCs (roughly a quarter of the listed and non listed players) and over several years, mitigating the blow. Junk bond investors and other forms of lenders have taken more of a body blow f rom this once-in-a-lifetime shift in American commerce.
Standard & Poor’s has downgraded troubled retailer J.C. Penney to CCC from CCC+. Apparently, all the talk about restructuring the company in advance of any Chapter 11 filing, which we discussed in posts on July 23, 2019, when restructuring advisors were first called in and again on August 14, when Bloomberg reported serious talk of a debt for equity swap was in the air.
Not helping Penney’s with S&P is that the retail background for bricks and mortar stores remains challenging, notwithstanding the operational advances management has made. S&P’s view was summed up as follows:
“The negative outlook on JCP reflects the growing risk of a distressed debt exchange or restructuring in the next 12 months as industry headwinds, weak same-store sales, and a burdensome debt load contribute to its unsustainable capital structure.
“We could lower our ratings on JCP if the company announces a debt exchange or restructuring or if its operating conditions worsen such that we see a restructuring as increasingly likely in the next six months.
“Before raising our rating on JCP, we would expect the company to demonstrate a significant and sustained improvement in its performance that leads us to view a distressed exchange as less likely.”
We have rated J.C. Penney CCR 4 on our 1-5 scale, aka on our Worry List, where we believe the chances of an ultimate loss are greater than that of full recovery. Thankfully from a BDC perspective although there are 4 BDCs with exposure (including three non-traded FS Investment-KKR Capital BDCs) total exposure is very modest at $6.8mn at cost. All the debt sits towards the top of the capital structure and the biggest discount to cost is only (8%) as of June 2019. We believe the actual loss will be more substantial if and when a debt for equity swap or Chapter 11 occurs, but either way the impact on BDC net asset value and income should be modest. That’s a statement that cannot be made about the many other lenders to J.C. Penney, whose borrowings are substantial.
Bloomberg reported on August 7, 2019 that J.C. Penney creditors are seriously considering a debt swap to give the troubled department store chain more time to turn its business round.
That may not affect the several BDCs with $6.8mn of first lien exposure (most recently TPG Specialty – TSLX – has gotten involved), but will draw in second lien debt.
In any case, although the company has liquidity and no immediate debt maturities, chances are increasing that something will happen in the weeks ahead. That might result in lower values for the 3 FS-KKR non-traded funds involved, all of whom have valued their modest exposure at or close to par last time results were published – in IQ 2019.
The retail apocalypse marches on.
Another famous retailer – J.C. Penney – has been back in the news since Reuters announced on July 18, 2019 the hiring of restructuring advisors. We added the retailer to our Worry List on the news. Now Motley Fool has provided a useful summary of the company’s financial condition. Here are highlights: ”
“As of the end of last quarter, J.C. Penney had $3.9 billion of debt, plus another $1.2 billion of lease liabilities. Meanwhile, the company’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) has plunged in recent years due to strategic missteps and tough business conditions. This has driven J.C. Penney’s leverage to unsustainable levels. Adjusted EBITDA totaled $568 million in fiscal 2018 — down from $1 billion in fiscal 2016 — putting J.C. Penney’s leverage ratio at more than seven times EBITDA. For comparison, most investment-grade companies have debt that is no more than three times EBITDA”.
The real problem is looming farther out. J.C. Penney has about $2.5 billion of secured debt that will mature between 2023 and 2025. It also has $1.2 billion of unsecured debt maturing between 2036 and 2097. J.C. Penney needs to whittle down the principal balance of this debt while ensuring that it can extend the maturities of what remains.
J.C. Penney’s unsecured debt maturing in 2036 and beyond currently trades for between $0.23 and $0.26 on the dollar. Even some of its lower-priority secured debt trades for less than $0.50 on the dollar. Thus, the market is already factoring in a substantial likelihood that creditors won’t be repaid in full. This should motivate them to cooperate with the company’s efforts to restructure its debt. It might even make sense to write off some of the principal if J.C. Penney can offer more collateral in exchange (and perhaps some equity warrants to reward creditors if the company manages to turn itself around).
From a BDC perspective, the exposure is modest at $3.3mn, and spread over three FS KKR non-traded BDCs: FSIC II, FSIC III and FSIC IV in two different loans/notes, one maturing in 2020 and another in 2023. We expect lower valuations will be applied in future quarters than as of 3/31/2019 when FMV was close to par, but the impact on individual BDC balance sheets and income statements, even if Chapter 11 does eventually occur, should be modest.
Embattled retailer J.C. Penney is often in the news now that Sears has left the building. A new CEO with a well regarded strategy for rejuvenating the company has given hope to some that “Penney’s” will survive where so many others have failed. We’ve written about the company multiple times in recent months, starting in July 2019. The company, though, has been on our Under Performers list since IVQ 2018 and is currently rated CCR 4 on our 5 point scale, just above non-performing.
Hopes were high that the holiday shopping season might prove a turning point for the company. However, as an article in Motley Fool suggests, that’s not been the case. Same store sales have been disappointing: “The company saw comparable-store sales drop by 7.5% for the nine-week period ending Jan. 4. If you exclude the fact that the retailer exited the appliance and furniture categories, comp sales dropped by “only” 5.3%. For the full year, the company expects same-store sales to drop by 7%-8%. That number improves compared to a loss of 5%-6% if you exclude the company dropping appliances and furniture”.
Once again the company’s survival is in question as there is no reason to believe the downward trend is reversible. We’ve added J.C. Penney to the list of companies that we expect to drastically restructure or file for some sort of bankruptcy protection in 2020.
As we noted in our most recent post, BDC exposure has actually grown in the IIIQ 2019 (to $18mn at cost) as TPG Specialty (TSLX) joined FS Investment II, III and IV as lenders, but in an asset-based facility. How any of these blenders will fare in a potential bankruptcy is impossible to suss out at this point. In late September all but one of the positions held were marked at par or better. As we’ve seen with other borrowers on a long downward slide those valuations can change, though, when an actual bankruptcy happens. Even TSLX – which has magisterially navigated multiple troubled companies that eventually went into bankruptcy – will have to keep their wits about them. At some point in 2020 we expect to join Warren Buffet to find out who’s been swimming naked.