Sign of the times : Toys “R” Us Enters Death Spiral… Facing Imminent Bankruptcy, Suppliers Halt Shipments
Last week’s news that Toys “R” Us has hired bankruptcy lawyers Kirkland & Ellis to help restructure its heavy debt load, came as a shock to the company’s creditors, who promptly sent its bond crashing from nearly par at the start of the month to 43 cents on the dollar as of Friday.
As Bloomberg first reported, K&E is focused on the $400MM in bond due 2081, while Toys “R” Us has also retained Lazard to help with debt refinancing. They will have their hands full: in addition to shrinking sales and heightened competition, Toys ‘R’ Us has been burdened with debt from an LBO12 years ago as a result of which Toys “R” Us’s private equity owners, Bain Capital, KKR and Vornado Realty Trust, loaded up the company with $7.5 billion in debt.
Last year, the retailer extended maturities on some of borrowings, giving it more time to execute a turnaround plan by Chief Executive Officer Dave Brandon. As part of his comeback bid, he was looking to spruce up stores with more toy demonstrations and other experiences – seeking an edge on online sites such as Amazon. However, last week’s realization that the company is considering a debt-for-equity exchange, confirmed many worst fears that not only was the turnaround faltering but that underlying business was far weaker than expected.
The imminent restructuring, which judging by the shocking bond crash was completely unexpected, would help Toys “R” Us get its house in order ahead of the all-important holiday season, when the company has its biggest sales surge. Alas, now that the iconic toy retailer appears likely to cramdown at least one if not more creditor classes in some form of pre-pack Chapter 11, said sales surge may not happen at all if the company’s suppliers suddenly get cold feet and refuse to stock up the company with much needed inventory.
Which is precisely what is happening.
Making matters worse, according to the WSJ, Toys ‘R’ Us could file for bankruptcy as soon as next week, while Bloomberg adds that nervous suppliers have scaled back shipments and tightened terms to the retailer ahead of the crucial holiday selling season, on worries they may not got repaid and their payables would be lumped alongside other unsecured pre-petition claims.
The vendors are balking as Toys “R” Us continues talks with lenders over a new loan that would allow the company to stay open while it works out a recovery plan through bankruptcy proceedings, said the people, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private. The loan is being marketed by Lazard Ltd. to banks and existing creditors, said one of the people.
Just like in the case of Sears discussed here at the end of August, suppliers have pulled back in part because the cost to insure their shipments to cash-strapped Toys “R” Us has become too expensive, according to Bloomberg sources. Since vendors traditionally rank among other unsecured creditors under a bankruptcy waterfall schedule, their decision on whether to continue shipping goods can play a large role in determining a retailer’s fate.
Unfortunately for Toys “R” Us, now that it has entered the self-reinforcing death spiral of collapsing liquidity and panicked vendors, it needs to find a financial solution immediately and resume shipments because the cash-strapped chain makes about 40% of its sales during the fourth-quarter holiday season. Much of its strategy revolves around getting exclusive products from key vendors, along with support for advertising and marketing.
For now, the toy merchant has been seeking to refinance $400 million of debt that comes due next year, although media reports suggest that the process has stalled. As a result, the company is now openly flirting with bankruptcy as an option although no decision about seeking court protection has been made.
Still, as Bloomberg calculates, Toys “R” Us has remained oddly profitable, generating $790 million in EBITDA, the most since 2012, yet even that is not enough to appease vendors many of whom now demand payment upfront. Not everyone thought: Hasbro is among toymakers that hasn’t curtailed shipments, spokeswoman Julie Duffy wrote in an email. “We continue to partner and ship, conducting business as usual, while managing our risk across all retailers to the appropriate levels,” Duffy wrote.
Hasbro may regret this decision very soon as according to the the company’s 5 Year CDS, which in recent days have soared to 46 points upfront…
… the probability of default in the next five years is now 93%, and 60% over the next 12 months.
A Toys ‘R’ Us restructuring would add to a list of 25 retailers, including Rue21, Gymboree and Payless Shoe Source, that have filed for bankruptcy since the beginning of 2017. Another big box chain, Staples Inc., recently agreed to be taken private in a leveraged buyout.
While industrywide, toy sales have been strong in recent years, much of the growth is shifting to online sellers like Amazon.com Inc. and discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Amazon’s toy sales were up 24% last year, compared with 5% for the overall market and five years of declines for Toys “R” Us, according to analytics firm One Click Retail.
The company is not alone as it finds it is woefully behind in its competition with Amazon: some large toy brands, such as Lego and Star Wars, have also struggled recently, while the collectible Shopkins toys, which Toys ‘R’ Us helped launch, is on the downswing. Earlier this month, Lego AS reported its first decline in sales in 13 years and said it would cut 8% of its workforce. Another toy maker, Mattel Inc., replaced its chief executive earlier this year after a slide in holiday sales.
Ultimately, whatever the fate of Toys ‘R’ Us may be, it will inevitably go through bankruptcy court: according to the WSJ, in recent weeks Toys ‘R’ Us’s advisers have been hunting for a DIP loan to fund operations under chapter 11, effectively guaranteeing that a bankruptcy filing is now just a matter of days.