JCPenney Prepares To File For Bankruptcy

It's finally here. After a decade of management turnover, near misses, last minute rescues, and one valeant (sic) if disastrous attempt at an activist turnaround, one of the most iconic US retailers and mall anchors, J.C. Penney, is preparping to file for bankruptcy.

According to the Journal, J.C. Penney is in advanced talks for bankruptcy funding with a group of lenders, a sign the troubled retailer about to make a visit to 1 Bowling Green. JCP is in discussions with existing lenders including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan for a debtor-in-possession loan that would keep the department-store chain's operations funded during a court-supervised bankruptcy, according to people familiar with the matter.

The DIP loan would be roughly $800 million to $1 billion, with some of that money potentially including existing debt, and priming all the other unsecured creditors who will end up with a chunk of the post-petition equity, assuming of course it is not a Chapter 7. 

The Journal sources said that a bankruptcy filing could take place within the next few weeks, and certainly before May 15 as JCP entered into a 30-day grace period after missing an interest payment due to bondholders on April 15. It is possible creditors enter into a forbearance agreement if the company needs additional time to iron out negotiations before filing, but the endgame is clear.

Along with Sears, J.C. Penney was one of the dominant department-store chains of the last century. But the 118-year-old company has been losing money for years. With its mall-based stores closed and unlikely to reopen any time soon, the company has been forced to put aside its latest turnaround strategy and face its creditors at the negotiating table.

While department stores were struggling before the pandemic, the coronavirus quarantine forced the closure of most U.S. stores. The result has been a deluge of imminent bankruptcy filings in the retail space, including that other stalwart, Neiman Marcus, which as we reported previously is planning to file for bankruptcy any day.

Retailers are far from alone in seeing their businesses walloped by the pandemic and the collapse of business activity. Energy companies have been pummeled in recent weeks by the combination of a market downturn and plummeting oil prices, leading several to seek restructuring advice or bankruptcy protection. A total of seven U.S. oil-and-gas drillers filed for bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2020, and more are expected to do so.

Should the shutdown of the economy last for several more months, or should a second wave of coronavirus infection strike the US, companies in all other industries are expected to follow suit.