The financial troubles facing Sears Holdings Corp (NASDAQ:SHLD) over the past few years are legendary. When it comes to retailers, there isn’t another one that has received greater scrutiny when it comes to the potential for bankruptcy.
Retail is pretty grim right now. The quarterly earnings reports tell us that. As a result, CEOs working in the retail industry face incredible pressure to deliver results today — or else.
But how do you know for sure whether a company is destined for bankruptcy?
Well, it’s not as simple as finding a business doing poorly and slapping the “bankruptcy” moniker on it. Both Sears and JC Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) have been in death spirals for the past few years and they’re still standing.
A few years ago, I did an Altman Z-Score calculation for Aeropostale Inc (OTCMKTS:AROPQ) back when it was healthy. (The Altman Z-Score, for those who don’t know what it is, is five financial ratios added together to come up with a single score.) I still have Aeropostale’s old score on my computer. A whopping 4.4. Generally, any company with a score above 3 isn’t in danger of imminent bankruptcy. Those scoring below 1.8 are likely on their way, and those between the two could go either way.
Suffice to say, it’s a good way to assess a company’s financial health without getting all forensic. It’s not to be used on its own without other fundamental analysis.
Still, based on the Altman Z-Score, three retailers look to be in serious danger of falling into the abyss.
Retailers That Are Likely to Go Bankrupt: Lands’ End (LE)
Lands’ End definitely needed a makeover, but apparently her style was just too much for the board to take. So, they let her go.
Is LE ready for the scrap heap just like its former stablemate, Sears? Well, its second-quarter results show a net loss of $2 million on $292 million in revenue and a decrease in same-store sales of 2.5%. Worse still, its online business — once the lifeblood of the company — saw a 6.9% decrease in its revenue.
In other words, you’re darn right Lands’ End could go bankrupt.
A quick run of the numbers shows me that the company currently has a Z-Score of 1.87. Just a year ago, it was 2.4 or 22% higher. This suggests bankruptcy could very well be in Lands’ End’s future. That’s surprising to me because in 2014, when it was spun off from its parent, I honestly thought it had a bright future.
It’s looking more and more like I was wrong.
Retailers That Are Likely to Go Bankrupt: Ascena Retail Group (ASNA)
On Oct. 4, Ascena Retail Group Inc (NASDAQ:ASNA) — parent of Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Dressbarn and others — announced that it was implementing a transformational change that would positively alter the company’s future. In addition to its ongoing $235 million cost-savings initiative integrating Ann Inc., the retail conglomerate’s latest acquisition, it has restructured its business into four operating segments: Premium Fashion, Plus Fashion, Value Fashion and Kids Fashion.
Ascena hopes to create greater structure and focus. However, considering its total long-term debt increased 12-fold in 2015 with its $2.2 billion purchase of Ann Taylor, it appears ASNA might have bitten off more than it can chew.
Ascena’s current Z-Score is 2.1, which is above 1.8 — what’s required for imminent bankruptcy status. However, go back three fiscal years, and its Z-Score was far more palatable at 4.3.
ASNA shares are down more than 40% year-to-date. This knife is falling for a reason, so don’t catch it. The bankruptcy drums have begun.
Retailers That Are Likely to Go Bankrupt: Chico’s (CHS)
Finally, Chico’s FAS, Inc. (NYSE:CHS) laid off approximately 200 people at its Fort Myers, Florida, head office in August — the latest jobs cuts to hit the one-time super-hot women’s apparel retailer.
Job cuts can only keep the wolves from the door for so long. Eventually, a business has to figure out how to grow, or it inevitably dies.
CEO Shelley Broader, who was brought in from a very successful stint at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT), has been on the job for less than a year, but she had a plan. Activist investor Barington Capital wasn’t so sure. The two were embroiled in a public dispute until mid-July about what should be done to right the company.
Impressive resume or not, Barington Capital felt Broader was only implementing change because of its activist involvement. A positive for current shareholders: Barington feels CHS stock is undervalued. There’s no way Barington would ever have been involved in this dispute if Chico’s were in good shape.
Let’s see what the Z-Score says.
CHS is not going bankrupt tomorrow. Based on its fiscal 2016 results, Chico’s has a Z-Score of 5.2, well above the 3 level required for the all-clear signal. But before we give Chico’s a pass, we should look at where it stood three years ago, as trends are often more important than simple numbers. Chico’s score was a 7, 35% higher than where it is now.
Declining sales, EBITDA profits, increased long-term debt and a declining market cap could adversely affect Chico’s Z-Score in the future. If the first three crater, you can bet the market cap will be quick to follow.
I’m not convinced Broader is going to be able to deliver the goods despite her record of success. Chico’s has been ineffective for some time, in my opinion. It came back once before when founder Marvin Gralnick came out of retirement in 1994 to run the company.
Again, Chico’s is the least likely to go under, but stranger things have happened. If things don’t get better soon, CHS shareholders could be in for a world of pain.
As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.