April 15, 2008

Ugly and Uglier


Retail is tanking all over the place and leaving destruction in its wake

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among consumers. Figures released on Monday showed that spending on food and gasoline is crowding out other purchases, leaving people with less to spend on furniture, clothing and electronics. Consequently, chains specializing in those goods are proving vulnerable.

Retailing is a business with big ups and downs during the year, and retailers rely heavily on borrowed money to finance their purchases of merchandise and even to meet payrolls during slow periods. Yet the nation’s banks, struggling with the growing mortgage crisis, have started to balk at extending new loans, effectively cutting up the retail industry’s collective credit cards.

[...]

Because retailers rely on a broad network of suppliers, their bankruptcies are rippling across the economy. The cash-short chains are leaving behind tens of millions of dollars in unpaid bills to shipping companies, furniture manufacturers, mall owners and advertising agencies. Many are unlikely to be paid in full, spreading the economic pain.

[...]

Changes in the federal bankruptcy code in 2005 significantly tightened deadlines for ailing companies to restructure their businesses, offering them less leeway.

And the changes may force companies to pay suppliers before paying wages or honoring obligations to customers, like redeeming gift cards, said Sally Henry, a partner in the bankruptcy law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and the author of several books on bankruptcy.

As a result, she said, “it’s no longer reorganization or even liquidation for these companies. In many cases, it’s evaporation.”

[...]

Plenty of retailers remain on strong footing. Arnold H. Aronson, the former chief executive of Saks Fifth Avenue and a managing director at Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consulting firm, said the credit tightness and consumer spending slowdown have only wiped out the “bottom tier” companies in retailing.
Oy.

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