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Retail Distress Shows No Sign of Abating, Record Store Closures Anticipated

June 22, 2017, 07:30 AM
Filed Under: Bankruptcy

As the industry continues to struggle, the number of retailers filing for bankruptcy keeps growing, and 2017 could end up with the highest number of retail bankruptcies ever. That's the assessment of a new report from that compiles key sector information on retail bankruptcies and restructurings going back three decades.

According to the report: "The retail industry has always been competitive, and the ongoing decline in sales and store traffic is just one more challenge for this battered sector, which is already dealing with liquidity issues, management challenges, weakened competitive positions, ailing credit ratings, exposure to unfavorable borrowing terms and highly promotional pricing that cuts into margins."

In April, Credit Suisse said that the number of individual  brick-and-mortar  store  closures  in  2017 could  top  the  record  set  in  2008, resulting in over 140 million square feet of retail vacancy. Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's and Ascena Retail, which owns Ann Taylor, Loft, Dress Barn, Lane Bryant, Justice and others, are on the list of retailers that have already announced  hundreds of store closures in 2017.  Two retail bankruptcies so far this year -- Gymboree Corp and teen boutique rue21 -- have made the list of the largest 30 retail bankruptcies of all time, with combined assets of more than $2 billion.

According to a recent report from Moody's, the ranks of distressed retailers is set to keep growing over the next 12 to 18 months amid a secular shift in the industry, says Moody's Investors Service in a new report.

In February, among Moody's rated retail and apparel issuers, 19 retailers had ratings of Caa or lower. That number has since grown to 22, or approximately 15%, of the firm's retail and apparel universe. Debt rated at Caa, or below, is the lowest ranked on Moody's credit rating spectrum.

"The majority of retailers remain fundamentally healthy," said Moody's Lead Retail Analyst Charlie O'Shea, "But as select groups of retailers continue to deteriorate -- in particular department stores and specialty retailers -- we believe the distressed ranks will keep growing, fueled in part by distinct vulnerabilities within the B2/B3 retail population."

Of Moody's 42 B2/B3 rated issuers (as of April 30, 2017), seven face $1.1 billion of potential maturities for asset-based loans and revolving credit facilities in 2018 -- elevating the risk of default for already-stressed and distressed issuers should the strong refinancing pace driving recent high-yield issuance recede. Such a risk is underscored by Moody's US speculative-grade default forecast, which predicts a decline in the overall US speculative-grade default rate to 3% by April 2018 from 4.5% today, even as spec-grade retail and apparel default forecasts trend significantly higher, at 6.7% and 6.8%, respectively.

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