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November 10, 2017 | The Retail Industry is in Big Trouble

Hilliard MacBeth

Author of "When the Bubble Bursts: Surviving the Canadian Real Estate Crash"

A Bloomberg story about difficulties in the retail industry caught my eye, as I’ve written about struggles of retail stores and shopping malls before, in a Weekend Note in December 2015.

At that time, shares of the on-line behemoth Amazon Inc. were trading on the stock market at $666. Recently they touched $1,135, a total value of $545 billion.

The “Amazon effect” continues and there’s no hint that struggles in the retail sector are over. In the recent past RadioShack, The Sports Authority, Payless Shoes and Toys ‘R’ US have all declared bankruptcy.

Listen to long-time retail expert Howard Davidowitz on the ongoing retail disaster.

He claims that America is vastly over-stored while online is killing everyone in the space. He predicts that employment in retail will decline drastically. Davidowitz says America has five times the space that other countries like England, Japan and France have. Most of this space was built with borrowed money and is no longer needed.

The rise of Amazon and e-commerce is just part of the story. E-commerce, so far, is less than ten per cent of total sales. A bigger problem for the sector might be the heavy debt load that retailers carry.

The Bloomberg story “America’s Retail Apocalypse is really just beginning”, explains that leaders in the retail industry opened 3,000 stores, but the bad news is they’ve closed more than 6,800 stores in 2017. Macy’s closed 68 in 2017 while Sears and Kmart closed 358 stores in 2017 and have announced 63 more closings in January 2018, according to this November 3 report.

Source: Zero Hedge

Heavy debt loads carried by retailers are likely to become a bigger problem as the Federal Reserve triggers interest rates increases due to a stronger economy and unemployment rates near 4 per cent. The Fed has done two rate increases in 2017 and there might be a third increase in December. Many economists agree with rate hikes as they argue there is no justification for continuing the policy of extremely low interest rates.

The retail sector isn’t ready for a rising rate environment. For example, shares of JC Penney (JCP on NYSE) hit an all-time low recently after a reporting a loss. Total market cap is under $1 billion with debt of $3.8 billion, a precarious balance sheet that might short-circuit any share price rally. Shares declined from $12 to less than $4 in eighteen months, but bottom-feeders are hesitating, with good reason.

According to Real Capital Analytics, the eight largest publicly-traded retail chains owe a total of $24 billion in debt.

Macy’s, a much bigger chain than J.C. Penney, trades near $20, down from $75 two years ago. The equity value of Macy’s is about $6.1 billion, with a debt of $6.8 billion, a highly levered balance sheet but better than J.C. Penney.

Debt loads like these are normal in the industry and will impede efforts of traditional retailers to reposition their business into the e-commerce era. While there will still be many retail stores a decade from now, the transition to a new business model will claim many victims.

So if you receive a gift card as a present, go ahead and buy something to claim the credit without delay. After bankruptcy, gift cards are worthless.

Hilliard MacBeth

The opinions expressed in this report are the opinions of the author and readers should not assume they reflect the opinions or recommendations of Richardson GMP Limited or its affiliates. Assumptions, opinions and estimates constitute the author’s judgment as of the date of this material and are subject to change without notice. We do not warrant the completeness or accuracy of this material, and it should not be relied upon as such. Before acting on any recommendation, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The comments contained herein are general in nature and are not intended to be, nor should be construed to be, legal or tax advice to any particular individual. Accordingly, individuals should consult their own legal or tax advisors for advice with respect to the tax consequences to them, having regard to their own particular circumstances.. Richardson GMP Limited is a member of Canadian Investor Protection Fund. Richardson is a trade-mark of James Richardson & Sons, Limited. GMP is a registered trade-mark of GMP Securities L.P. Both used under license by Richardson GMP Limited.

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November 10th, 2017

Posted In: Hilliard's Weekend Notebook

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