While everyone likes to point the finger at Amazon, the growing retail apocalypse in America can't be tied to just one catalyst. Certainly, there is no doubt that Amazon is taking a toll on brick-and-mortar retailers but massive excess capacity, perpetually over-levered capital structures and a constant lack of capital investment have undoubtedly helped accelerate the decline.
As Bloomberg points out today, up until this year, struggling retailers have largely been able to avoid bankruptcy by refinancing to buy more time. Alas, as evidenced by the Toys "R" Us bankruptcy, investor demand for retail debt has waned of late resulting in a whole slew of recent retail failures.
Meanwhile, investor distaste for retail debt comes just as the industry faces a massive wave of maturities over the next five years.
Making matters more difficult is the explosive amount of risky debt owed by retail coming due over the next five years. Several companies are like teen-jewelry chain Claire’s Stores Inc., a 2007 leveraged buyout owned by private-equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC, which has $2 billion in borrowings starting to mature in 2019 and still has 1,600 stores in North America.
Just $100 million of high-yield retail borrowings were set to mature this year, but that will increase to $1.9 billion in 2018, according to Fitch Ratings Inc. And from 2019 to 2025, it will balloon to an annual average of almost $5 billion. The amount of retail debt considered risky is also rising. Over the past year, high-yield bonds outstanding gained 20 percent, to $35 billion, and the industry’s leveraged loans are up 15 percent, to $152 billion, according to Bloomberg data.
Even worse, this will hit as a record $1 trillion in high-yield debt for all industries comes due over the next five years, according to Moody’s. The surge in demand for refinancing is also likely to come just as credit markets tighten and become much less accommodating to distressed borrowers.
So, who has been hit the hardest so far? Not surprisingly, mall-based apparel retailers and department stores alone account for nearly half of the 6,752 store closures so far this year.
Now that boom is finally going bust. Through the third quarter of this year, 6,752 locations were scheduled to shutter in the U.S., excluding grocery stores and restaurants, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's more than double the 2016 total and is close to surpassing the all-time high of 6,900 in 2008, during the depths of the financial crisis. Apparel chains have by far taken the biggest hit, with 2,500 locations closing. Department stores were hammered, too, with Macy’s Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. downsizing. In all, about 550 department stores closed, equating to 43 million square feet, or about half the total.
Meanwhile, given the number of real estate delinquencies sprinkled around the country, the store closure counts above will undoubtedly only continue to grow.
Of course, the wave of retail failures is a direct hit to an industry that is the largest employer of young Americans and those at the low end of the income spectrum with retail employment drastically lagging overall private job growth.
States like Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Illinois have been among the hardest hit, with retail employment declining over the past decade, and now those woes are likely to spread. Many states, such as Nevada, Florida and Arkansas, have overly relied on retail for job growth, so they could feel more pain as the fallout deepens.
Meanwhile, exposure to low-end retail jobs varies by state with Alabama, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi and South Carolina having the highest concentration of cashiers, who have an average wage of $21,500 a year. On a regional basis, Bloomberg notes that Washington Parish north of New Orleans has a higher percentage than anywhere in the country, at twice the national average.
Conclusion: All of America's mall REITs are going to need a lot more high schools and doctor offices to fill their vacant spaces unless they want to meet the same fate as this once-bustling mall in Ohio...