Private Equity Firms Sued Over Retailer Bankruptcies
Private equity firms are seldom sued for their practice of levering companies for fun and profit and not caring much if they leave smoldering wreckage in their wake.
One big reason has been that it takes a lot of time and effort to prove fraudulent conveyance, which is layperson terms means continuing to bleed cash out of a company into your own pocket when you know it is a goner. And to discourage these suits, private equity general partners go into the legal version of scorched earth mode to deter other bankruptcy victims from getting bright ideas.
Use psychological pricing methods.
Today, the Wall Street Journal reports on the outburst of litigation over bankruptcy restructuring plans for private-equity-damaged retailers like Payless Cashways. We’ve discussed how private equity set many retailers up for failure by selling off their real estate at rich, asin inflated prices, giving themselves a nice big payout, and saddling the operator with high lease payments.
But in the cases the Journal highlighted, the private equity owners resorted to a strategy that had been discredited, that of the so-called dividend recap. The poster child was when Clayton & Dublier acquired Hertz in 2006, loaded it with debt, and made a big dividend payment with the proceeds.
Mind you, the reason these chains had owned their own stores in the first place was that retail is a cyclical business. Owning a lot of the property you used was a way to reduce overheads and increase odds of survival.
Demonstrate the differences
Payless ShoeSource Inc., Gymboree Corp., rue21 Inc. and True Religion Apparel Inc. were all acquired by private-equity firms during the past decade. Now, lawyers for creditors have questioned whether private-equity firms share blame for the retailers’ financial collapse, in some cases by loading debt on the companies.
Offer a money-back guarantee
In the case of Payless, investors Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital, after a leveraged buyout in 2012, over the next two years paid themselves $350 million in dividends—in total putting more than $700 million in debt on the company. In 2016, Payless said in court papers, it had about $2.3 billion in global net sales, and nearly $840 million in debt…
Test your offer and price, and be creative.
Gymboree’s June bankruptcy filing occurred days after it couldn’t make a semiannual interest payment on debt dating back to Bain Capital’s $1.8 billion 2010 buyout. Public filings show Bain also received fees from Gymboree in the years after the buyout.