Retail defaults to spike in March as maturities mount in 2019, Moody's says

Key Points
  • Moody's list of distressed-level retailers drops to 20 names from 26.
  • "The pain will persist for weaker issuers," according to analyst Charlie O'Shea.
  • Maturities for the retail industry are expected to pick up in 2019.
Shoppers search for discounted items left at a Sears store that is closing in South Centre Mall in Calgary.
Photo: Ron Jeffery

Retailers defaulting on loans are expected to reach a peak this month, according to a new report from Moody's Investor Service.

The firm is calling for retail defaults among borrowers to reach a rate of 12.4 percent by the end of this month, which would be a new high. For comparison, the rate of defaults for the trailing 12 months is about 6.3 percent.

Moody's said the number of distressed-level retailers it monitors has dropped to 20 names from 26, where the list was a year ago. It expects about six companies will default on loans over the next 12 months, most likely in the first half of 2018. Though, "the pain will persist for weaker issuers" beyond that time frame, analyst Charlie O'Shea said.

Some of the latest companies within the industry to default include Tops Markets, Bon-Ton, Charlotte Russe and Charming Charlie. Toys R Us meanwhile has recently missed payments to vendors, adding to the pressure. The toy retailer could announce plans to liquidate its entire business as soon as Wednesday, sources told CNBC.

Looking to 2019, Moody's expects maturities to spike next year, meaning many significant debts are coming due. From 2018 to 2020, the firm has calculated retail maturities to amount to nearly $15 billion.

"Those with more challenged credit profiles and operating performance problems may face uphill challenges in tapping the markets, especially in an environment where monetary policy is tightening," O'Shea said. "Upcoming maturities increase other types of risk as well, including distressed exchanges, which we classify as a default."

In 2019 alone, $5.9 billion in retail debt will mature, according to Moody's. And the majority of debt coming due over the next few years stems from five companies: Sears Holdings, Neiman Marcus, Claire's Stores, Bi-Lo Holding Finance and Guitar Center.

Overall retail looks to be improving, O'Shea said, it's just morphed into somewhat of a "have/have nots" scenario. The highly leveraged companies, many backed by private equity partners, are the ones fighting to stay afloat today, according to Moody's.

Here are the companies on Moody's so-called watch list:

  1. 99 Cents Only Stores
  2. BI-LO Holding Finance
  3. Bluestem Brands
  4. Claire's Stores
  5. David's Bridal
  6. Everest Holdings
  7. Evergreen AcqCo 1 LP
  8. Fairway Group Holdings
  9. FULLBEAUTY Brands Holdings
  10. Guitar Center
  11. Neiman Marcus
  12. Nine West
  13. Sears Holdings
  14. TOMS Shoes
  15. Vince
  16. Fresh Market
  17. Payless
  18. SHO Holding
  19. J.Crew
  20. Indra Holdings