Retailers in bankruptcy are notoriously hard to restructure.
Bon-Ton Stores – it operates department stores in 23 states under the brands of Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s, and Younkers – filed for bankruptcy in February in the hopes of being able to restructure its debt in court and go on as a going concern. But it has now thrown in the towel, so to speak.
The bankruptcy judge today approved the sale of Bon-Ton Stores’ assets to a joint venture of two liquidators and creditors holding Bon-Ton’s second-lien secured notes:
The liquidators: Great American Group and Tiger Capital Group.
The creditors: PE firms, hedge funds, and investment banks that had scooped up the bonds for cents on the dollar: Brigade Capital Management, Wolverine Asset Management, B. Riley FBR, Riva Ridge Master Fund, Bennett Management, and Alden Global Capital.
Their joint bid was about $777 million, “a person familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. The joint venture will close all remaining 250 department stores no later than August 31 – on top of the 40 stores Bon-Ton had already closed before filing for bankruptcy – sell the inventory and other assets, and layoff off the remaining 24,000 employees.
Bon-Ton Stores had already warned on April 6 that it would close a 743,000-square-foot distribution center in Ohio that it had opened three years ago.
At the time of the bankruptcy filing in February, Bon-Ton Stores had obtained a debtor-in-possession (DIP) loan commitment of up to $725 million to get it through the bankruptcy process. Of this commitment, $575 million are outstanding. The purchase price approved today has enough cash in it to repay the outstanding DIP balance.
The payment for the $725 million purchase price also includes the “value” of the bonds of $125 million that the group of bondholders contributed to the deal.
The joint venture won in the bankruptcy auction on Tuesday against a bid from a group of liquidation firms Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Retail Partners.
A third group never never submitted a bid. The group included the credit-focused hedge fund DW Partners and mall owners Washington Prime Group and Namdar Realty Group. Their intent had been to acquire Bon-Ton Stores as a going concern and keep the stores open.
When Bon-Ton stores announced the winning bid on Tuesday, it said in a statement:
While we are disappointed by this outcome and tried very hard to identify bidders interested in operating the business as a going concern, we are committed to working constructively with the winning bidder to ensure an orderly wind-down of operations that minimizes the impact of this development on our associates, customers, vendors and the communities we serve. We are incredibly grateful to all of our associates for their dedicated service to Bon-Ton and to our millions of loyal customers who we have had the pleasure to serve as their hometown store for more than 160 years.
That Bon-Ton Stores would face liquidation if it could not find a buyer became clear in bankruptcy court on March 12, when the company set out the rules for an auction of its business as a going concern. The company said if there’s no bid that satisfies the court and the creditors, it would likely be forced into liquidation.
These creditors – namely said holders of the second-lien secured notes – had been clamoring all along for asset liquidation and did what they could to stymie the restructuring negotiations before and during bankruptcy. Now they got what they wanted.
This will be the second liquidation of a major retailer this year. The first was that of Toys “R” Us. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last September and promising that it would remain in business, it announced on March 15 that it would close all its 735 stores in the US, liquidate the inventory, and be done with it. About 33,000 jobs will disappear over the next few months.
The retail sector is the second largest employer in the US, with 15.7 million jobs. Over the past 12 months, it actually created 63,000 jobs. But that was in segments that are not under all-out attack from e-commerce, such as gasoline stations, grocery and beverage stores, and auto dealers. The segments that are under attack have shed nearly 70,000 jobs [for more, including charts, see… How Does Amazon Fit into the Jobs Report?].
These 12-month totals were as of March and do not include the 33,000 Toys ‘R’ Us jobs and the 24,000 Bon-Ton jobs that will disappear over the next few months.
Bon-Ton and Toys ‘R’ Us, before they filed for bankruptcy, occupied nearly 60 million square feet of retail space, which will be vacated by this summer. Toys ‘R’ Us stores are already wreaking havoc among commercial mortgage backed securities. No wonder that two mall owners tried to keep Bon-Ton from liquidating by buying it. It was a move of desperation. It’s a big job to do something useful with 60 million square feet of retail space that becomes vacant all of a sudden in the middle of the brick-and-mortar meltdown.
More broadly, there could be about 12,000 store closures this year in the US, according to data from Cushman & Wakefield, cited by the Wall Street Journal. Last year, which was bad enough, there were about 9,000. While retail sales overall are growing at a healthy clip, the segments that are under attack from e-commerce are getting crushed. And it has started to impact the national averages for commercial real estate. Read… As Malls Get Crushed, Commercial Real Estate Prices Fall to Lowest in Nearly Two Years
Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:
Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.
Wolf, I believe you’ve mentioned in other articles is the reason that retailers struggle so much to restructure is because, they don’t have very much in the way of assets.
At this point, it’s fairly well known that Amazon intends to crush retailers by artificially “doping” its performance by taking advantage of the Post Office. The real question is when giants fight who yields first?
Amazon has little need to crush retail chains: PE firms are doing the work better than Amazon ever could.
Part of the standard PE takeover is to spin off hard assets such as prime retail locations (and many are really prime real estate: see Sears) and either lease them back in a so-called sweetheart deal or sell them outright to get a one time boost to earnings. Again, see Sears.
Another part of the standard PE takeover is to starve the company for funds it needs to keep operating in profitable fashion. I am sure you have read many comments here about department store X or clothing retailer Y being the shadow of its former self a few years after being “taken over”. Most PE firms have no interest in running a profitable, self-sustaining operation. They just want to extract as much cash as possible and then pass on the hot potato to somebody else.
Some retail sectors are harder than others, but all do require continuous investments to avoid drowning. If those investments get syphoned into financial, the retailer is sapped of its very lifeforce and sooner or later will wilt.
Regarding Amazon taking advantage of the USPS. A while back I got an email from them saying my Prime subscription would be going up from €20 to €36 when it’s due in November. Not much in absolute terms, but it’s an eye-watering 80% increase in just one year.
Shipping costs are starting to affect them as well despite their enormous bargaining power.
But if Athens weeps, Sparta isn’t laughing: shipping costs are rising everywhere and very few brick and mortar retailers have anywhere near Amazon’s bargaining power.
Inflation is already making itself felt in transport-intensive sectors (such as fruit and vegetables), this year won’t be pretty.
You pay were paying 20 a year for prime?
20 Euros. Which is within 20% or so, not sure if more or less, of 20 USD.
I buy fairly ofen on Amazon simply because it’s things I can’t get locally. Now, in a city of about 1 million, in an area of many millions, I still can’t get the “claw utility” attachment for my Husky shop vac (it’s the same shape as those at the coin-op car washes) which is something that ought to be easy to get, well, Amazon.
Things like socks, books, a cell phone battery, camera batteries, a large package of match books so I always have “lights” to give to people who ask if I’ve got a cig (of course I don’t, I don’t smoke and that really seems to tick some of ’em off) just really mundane stuff.
Interestingly, with the exception of some socks I can’t get locally (Big-5 used to sell them, called “smart wool”) clothing shopping on “the river” has been a disaster. I’ve sent sooo many things back. I’ve had two books not arrive, out of maybe 20 books/DVDs so that’s a failure rate of about 10% Hmmm.
On books I’m almost considering just having my local used/new book store, Recycle Books, order the book for me and I can go pick it up.
Oh, and in the US, it’s standard to pay $100/year for Prime, unless you’re low-income, then it’s $140 parceled out into monthly payments they hope you never add up.
I could show you the receipt but the Internet is full of unsavory types and shady characters. ;-)
Standard price on Prime was €20 (including taxes), which given how much I’ve saved in shipping in a single year was a smashing hot deal. As shipping has shot into the stratosphere €36 is an amazing deal nonetheless but, as said, it’s still an 80% increase in one year. Ouch.
No matter how much Amazon grabs shipping companies by the ankles and shakes them for pennies, I am seriously convinced they lose a lot of money on shipping, especially with people like me who buy a lot of small items such as music CD’s.
One final word on pricing.
I strongly suspect Amazon pricing, at least here on European markets, is strongly “reactive”. Jeff Bezos’ company is well known to run sophisticated software programs that trawl the Internet to check pricing an pretty much everything Amazon itself sells or could sell and the data gathered are used to set the price you see on your screen.
I’ve found Amazon prices to always be within 2%, give or take a few pennies, of the cheapest price you can find on the Internet, and as it often includes free fast shipping with Prime it’s usually a smashing good deal. However…
This seems to be limited to sellers based in certain countries. For example while looking for some collectible music albums you’ll find Amazon to be highly competitive with sellers based in the EU but sellers based in Japan or the US are usually able to beat that price, often by a lot (25% is the norm, but I’ve seen over 40% on some Japanese imports), and as CD’s are cheap to ship even with EMS or similar fast services, you come of way ahead. VAT and currency alone cannot account for that difference, especially when shipping is included.
Taking advantage of the Post Office is like “rolling a drunk..” I find it more likely that Amazon has put money in their pockets. There are a number of retailers who are thriving in this difficult environment.
Ebay gets a discount too. Once you’re a biggish seller, selling over say, $50k a year, Ebay takes care of you pretty well. You get a discount on shipping with the USPS and you get “Ebay Bucks” that you can use to buy Ebay-themed boxes, bubble mailers, tape, etc – the quality of which is very good.
The only people taking advantage of USPS are the GOP Congressmen who in 2006 forced them to prefund retiree health benefits, something NO OTHER EMPLOYER (public OR private) must do. That, not Amazon, is why USPS is “losing” money; Amazon is actually profitable for USPS.
Giants never fight each other, they split the pie.
Amazon has tossed the USPS a lifeline. How do you think USPS financials would look without Amazon deal? Win-win for both companies.
There were also vested interests that obstructed efforts to keep the doors open per the article
What? Mitt Romney and his Bain Capital missed this one! Move on – Just the regular LBO vultures here.
But…but…all the relentlessly upbeat perma-bull “analysts” on CNBC assured us that ‘Murica’s stimulus-and-debt fueled New Economy prosperity would go on into perpetuity.
We are right now deep into a 40 year experiment in whether or not the dogmatic truism that capitalism destroys jobs but replaces them with equivalent or better jobs is true or just so much bunkum. I’ve felt for years that the evidence was pointing strongly in the direction of discrediting that nostrum. However, it is believed by Economists and the Elites who Love Them. Whenever you point to myriad examples of jobs lost and no equivalents created in their wake, people just tune you out and repeat the mantra of “creative destruction” blah blah blah. Although the farthest thing from a Trump supporter, Trump at least hinted that there was such a problem until he took over and then started reciting the same cant we got from Obama, Clinton, and the Democrats about how great everything is here in America, the worker’s paradise. All vested interests can give us is happy talk. Which is why problems are never squarely stated and then addressed. Trump will maintain, the way Obama did, that there are no problems, nothing to see here but the magical invisible hand working its wondrous ways. What crap.
I agree we are in the middle of an enormous experiment, but I think it is less about if capitalism works and more about whether we can support a massive economy with deep deficit spending and insane central bank manipulation.
If you were really paying attention, you would have noticed that they always vote to increase the spending, then complain about the deficits. A smart person knows to look at what they do and ignore what they say. They “obviously” don’t care about the deficits because at some point they will print them away. It’s a when not if question.
Obama explained the nature of deficits, as money we already spent, which means in parlance that if Congress would pass a balanced budget amendment we might be able to get spending under control. Deeper issue is taxes and revenues, and real conservatives are still waiting for a politician to take issue with that. Once they get spending in line with revenues they can tackle the debt. In lieu of spending cuts there should be higher taxes, period.
In any ways you are correct, but it appears the “problem” goes far deeper in that what we are seeing is the first symptoms of a massive socioeconomic/cultural revolution resulting from exponential advances in “technology.”
Entire economic sectors are being severely impacted by automation/computerization/”artificial intelligence”, from manufacturing and retail to “finance” and speculation. Past experience is of little use in this rapidly changing environment.
No the ‘experiment’ is running a country’s economy entirely for the wishes of wealthy financial speculators, rather than the needs of its greater populace.
The idea is/was that the ‘trickle-down’ munificence of the super-wealthy will create lots of lowly-paid service jobs that the rest of us can do…
The ‘central bank manipulation’ has thus been necessary to:
i) keep the now-far-too-powerful speculators (embedded into our political system like ticks) happy
ii) give us ‘plebs’ lots of cheap credit to make up for woeful wages that are the result of our skilled, well-remunerated wealth-creating manufacturing jobs – with prospects – being offshored and replaced by no-skill menial service jobs.
We have very little pure capitalism as it has been replaced with crony capitalism …and central planning by intellectuals who are arrogant enough to believe in their ability to model everything only to continuously discover yet another missing variable that was instrumental in driving totally unexpected results.
Crony capitalism requires 2 parties to tango and guess who the counter party is. What is amazing is that so many hate capitalism confusing it with the cronyism they see…and they believe there are actually good guys who can be voted in to come to the rescue. a true invisible hand is better than empty promises. The past 50 year experiment in Cuba comes to mind.
Arrogance has nothing to do with it – without ‘manipulation’, the whole debt-soaked edifice would collapse in double-quick time.
Part of the genius of the financiers who instigated and run the system is that they have managed to convince whole swathes of people- via use of right-wing media propaganda – that the problem isn’t their reckless speculation, untamed greed and usurious lending practices that have created the whole mess, but rather it’s ‘government interference’ that’s the problem.
so we continue to deregulate…and the problems will continue. Getting worse every time.
You’ve got it backwards. Those “economists” are charlatans and shills for the elites. No economist who tells the truth about the Wall Street-Federal Reserve Looting Syndicate and the dangerous bubbles and systemic distortions it has created, or its swindles against the vanishing middle class, is ever going to appear on any corporate media outlet.
And it’s not just large chains that are filing for bankruptcy. Pizza chain Bertucci’s filed for Chapter 11. About half of all stores will close. The owner’s blamed the changing dining environment, rather than the PE firm that had $120 million in debt.
I wonder at what point the landlords will try to step in and prevent PE buyouts of retails stores. And if they can’t, if they will try to get change in control language into the contract. These buyouts never seem to work out for them and the increased vacancy helps put them in a downward spiral
Wolf: didn’t you cover this within the last year or so regarding restaurants and such? We discussed Outback Steakhouse and others who were excellent when begun then were bought out by the “big guns” and the quality of the food went down, the restaurants became “nastier”, diners stopped coming, but nobody cared because the new owners had extracted all the cash out of them and loaded them up with debt?
In my mind what is going on in retail is the same as with the formerly excellent restaurant chains.
Yes, and a big pizza chain just went bankrupt. I’ll include it in my April brick-and-mortar update :-]
The difference with restaurants is that they’re not under attack from e-commerce. Those that get in trouble do so because of what they offer customers, as you said, or because of some other problem, but not because of pressures from e-commerce.
Wolf, at Nakedcapitalism they have a term they use: crapification. The whole e-commerce phenomenon seems to further this. My wife studied fashion design at Pratt Institute back in the 1980s. This was not an airy-fairy major. It was all about textiles, pattern-making, sewing, and dyes. Haute couture took a back seat to the physical process of clothes-making. So, my wife can size up any piece of clothing with the most casual inspection. But she can’t do that staring at a computer screen. Ditto this past weekend we went to Tractor Supply Company in search of a new chainsaw. We wanted a Husqvarna, as they have a great reputation. But when we inspected the unit, it was all plastic and the chain break was a joke. If we had gone to amazon instead of TSC, we would have never seen how flimsy it was. So isn’t e-commerce just a vehicle for pumping out inferior products because the proof of the pudding is in the eating and all we see is the menu?
I think most people that buy online use the brick and mortar stores for just that reason To inspect before they place their order
“So isn’t e-commerce just a vehicle for pumping out inferior products because the proof of the pudding is in the eating and all we see is the menu?”
There is certainly a lot of junk out there, but in my mind the old adage that you get what you pay for remains true. So I wouldn’t agree that e-commerce is “just a vehicle” for pushing cheap products.
If you go on Amazon looking for cheap products, why be surprised when you get cheap products? That’s not to say some things won’t be overpriced– and you’re right that not being able to inspect something in person has its own costs– but as a rule of thumb, I have no trouble buying quality products online.
If I’m buying something without being able to assess the quality in person, I’m usually relying on reviews– and not the ones on Amazon, but reviews from trusted 3rd party sources.
Except for the review section…
Why buy new?
Find a local craftsman/mechanic that rebuilds/refurbishes older chain saws of higher quality, and offers a small warranty. Thats what I did over two years ago, at a fraction of the cost of new, buying a refurbished eight year old
32 inch Stihl. Still going strong. Very reliable.
100% sympathize (wife’s a seamstress) and I hate it too but:
Contrarian point to your post. The revues on Amazon are hugely helpful in finding those flimsy chain brakes and shoddy fabrics. When I shop I look at Amazon then hit the local retailers to see if they have what I decided to buy based mostly on revues. If I can’t find what I want I order it, sometimes from the retailer or more likely at Amazon.
As to retailers being pushed out: In the way back time machine of my family we had a clothing retail store that kept the family employed and fed. A large department store bought a few local politicians, seized the property and game over. Bankrupt. That was in the 1940’s. It ain’t gonna change.
See also premium mediocre
To your point about the TSC and the Husqvarna & the chainsaw. We bought a brand new Honda gas driven lawnmower from Home Depot. I gassed it up and it started one time. I pulled the starter cord probably a dozen more times and it came off in my hand. The wife took it back to HD and got her money back. As she was leaving the store the assistant said we can’t accept it back as it has gasoline in the tank. To which my wife replied, “How was I going to start it? Without gasoline?”. It was a crap “Honda” mower. I was really surprised that it was as bad as it was.
We ended up buying a used McLean lawnmower that does the job well.
The point is there are good made products but Amazon isn’t going to work everyone. & I sense its share price will be in the $100-200 range in 18 months from now.
On Amazon you have to know EXACTLY what you’re getting. A “Tinker” Swiss army knife is going to be the same knife on Amazon or if I pay half again more at OSH. But clothes, you have to be very into brands because certain brands will not allow their quality to fall so you’re in good hands with, say, North Face.
The reviews are very useful. But when it comes to things like lawn mowers, you gotta do your research. Gone are the days when you could just say, “Oh, it’s a Honda, it’ll be good”. Because these days there are whole cheaper lines of things with a quality name on them.
*Their joint bid was about $777 million*
It wasn’t what I would call a jackpot.
LOBs liquidate company assets. So by the time they file bankruptcy that’s it.
Tech companies that get LBOs may still get “saved” aka sold to some sucker who wants or needs their tech patents, but Retail?
LBOs are the biggest cause of stuff like this, the growth of online sales is just making it happen faster. Usually it took a company that got LBO about a decade or more to be gone.
maybe all of this will launch the rebirth of “mom and pop” retail. I remember as a boy I went to school with a girl who’s family owned the coolest toy store at lenox square in Atlanta. They carried everything. They were very successful. Would love to see this happen again. It would be very healthy for America!
That ‘trend’ won’t replace what we have now, until we have a few more economic ‘crash-n-burns’ first.
“Bring out your market dead !”
I’ve noticed that “market place” from Walmart is starting gain momentum. Amazon has set the stage for big retailers to change or die. I’ve Also noticed that Amazon is not as good a deal as they used to be on price and prime. Let the competition begin.
I cancelled my Prime membership when they had the first price hike a few years ago. I compared prices of what I was buying on Amazon locally and most things were cheaper locally, to my surprise. It has been a while since Amazon was the cheapest option. It’s just the most convenient option. I no longer purchase that much from Amazon, unless a family member sends me a link for a birthday etc.
Interesting. We are the exact opposite and have switched to Amazon for almost everything, including groceries. For us the convenience outweighs the sometimes higher prices. Hard to put a price on the luxury of not wading through the local grocery store one or two times a week.
I was buying groceries on Amazon too. I was buying everything from nuts to razors to shampoo to juice. But when I pricer checked them vs Walmart Aldees or local mom and pop, Amazon was higher on almost all. I also relished the convenience, but decided a trip or two to the local store was good for my health to get up and move, and good for the local economy. Almost everything I price check now on Amazon I can find cheaper someplace else, including other online vendors.
I agree that Amazon, for the items our family buys, is rarely the best value anymore. We usually shop Amazon to find what we like, but can find a better online price from Walmart, Home Depot, or other major retailer. I think Amazon is focusing on convenience as a value add. I can get convenience from their competitors, what I also want is low price. Harder to find low prices on Amazon now.
I think reverse showrooming is great! Use Amazon for the reviews and the user experiences, then go out locally to purchase for the best price. Most people think Amazon is the best deal because it was indeed the cheapest 5-10 years ago. But not any longer.
More money for the private equity and hedge fund guys and less jobs for the average American. This is a recurring story these days. Meanwhile employers continue to complain that they can’t find qualified workers with the skills they need. So train people instead of discarding them like trash.
I think the lack of qualified workers story is the mantra of the open borders free trader crowd. With all the “qualified” workers being put on the street in the last decade, it can’t possibly be true. Now that Kudlow is in the WH, a globalist free trader, I expect the mantra to get louder.
There is a Bon Ton close to where I live. It has been a ghost town of a store for the last 10 years. Limited options and poor stocking.
Some of the big retail locations are moving toward mixed residential / commercial use. The small retail store that one walks past on the way home is a better deal than finding out the porch theives took your latest Amazon purchase.
Besides, as commenters above noted, you can look at what you’re about to buy…
If people are stealing packages from your porch, you probably should be shopping for another place to live
I lived in Sag Harbor NY a very affluent village and we had thefts and burglaries all the time Kids and out of town workers were the prime suspects
Oh really ? Arrogance indeed … American or otherwise . Suffice it to say I live in a very upper middle to upper class suburban neighborhood within a gated community in a gentrified city thats been having ‘ porch theft ‘ problems for the last three years .
So do tell … where are these mythical places to live you’ve suggested to RepugAnon ? Rural areas & small town middle America perhaps ? Not likely with the opioid plague , poverty etc running rampant in those areas .
If I may … and even better set of reasons to keep your money local .. keeping your accounts privacy etc more secure .. an increased local tax base not requiring an increase in state and local taxes …which then equals better schools , police & fire , infrastructure , road maintenance etc … keeping local people employed … thereby decreasing local unemployment .. which also leads to lower crime and addiction rates … etc – et al
Not to mention avoiding ” Shadow Work ” ( ” In economics, shadow work refers to unpaid labor in the form of self service ” )
Buy locally .. when ever possible . And to hell with online convenience ‘ theater ‘ .. which in the end isn’t very convenient at all .
In many cases your purchase may become even cheaper by offering to pay in cash with no receipt needed. It tells no tales and leaves no trails. That’s the main reason why governments want to do away with cash. Because they’re not getting their “cut”.
Liquidation of the US economy continues apace.
Robbery and murder of companies is perfectly legal and is only one of the ways it is done, along with offshoring, importing slave labor, and many kinds of rentier extraction. Americans pay taxes to subsidize their own unemployment.
The weak are meat and the strong do eat, and for years they’ve gorging themselves on the third-world country that is the US. They’re not about to stop because corporatists have bought up the US government so they won’t have to, at least not until there’s nothing left to pillage. Meanwhile, that $777 million counts as ‘economic activity’ which ‘contributes’ to GDP, which just goes to show you just how phony GDP statistics are.
Be sure to admire the empty commercial buildings, half-empty malls, and abandoned strip retail while listening to the bleatings about how the US economy is ‘growing’ and at ‘full employment’. Most Americans are just stupid enough to believe it.