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Which retailers will sing a Black Friday swan song?

A season of giving isn’t enough for some retailers. A few struggling companies are in need of a holiday miracle.

“The overall landscape in retail has had no real growth in earnings since 2009,” says Monica Aggarwal, senior director and head of U.S. retail at Fitch Ratings. People are cutting back on purchases on iPads and iPhones, she says. “In the past year, sales haven’t grown that much, and where they have, they have grown online.”

That’s presented a major challenge for many mall retailers—those that depend on customers to traipse into their stores when they are moseying down the halls. Though some might be able to power through by downsizing, a couple might have to close shop altogether. Here is a breakdown.

American Apparel

The bad news: American Apparel’s (APP) sales declined 5% last quarter, compared to the same period last year, and it continues to turn out losses. It has about $20 million in excess cash and debt, but the retailer blew through $12 million in the six weeks between the end of September and November. At this rate, a quick and tidy turnaround plan is a must.

The good news: The company still has positive and growing operating earnings, partly powered by its international wholesale operations. That helps explain why Standard General, the hedge fund (also invested in RadioShack), recently took a big stake and a lead management role with the company. Standard General and others are set to give the firm another $15 million cash infusion. Given this vote of confidence, the company can plug along.

Swan Song likelihood: Extremely low.

Abercrombie & Fitch

The bad news: Though the company won’t officially release full third quarter earnings until early December, its recent revenue update does not bode well. Top line fell 12% in the first quarter, below previous guidance. In the previous quarter, it burned almost $290 million in cash, about half the amount it had resting on its balance sheet. The cash burn could easily be the same or worse when the company reports earnings for the recent quarter.

The good news: Abercrombie (ANF) received a $700 million lifeline in August and has $311 million in cash on its balance sheet. That should be enough capital to get through the next few quarters. While the company’s stock price has been cut by a third since August, it still has about $2 billion of equity value, a bit of a cushion from shareholders.

Swan song likelihood: Low.


The bad news: Without a doubt, Aeropostale (ARO) is struggling. Revenue fell 12% in the most recent quarter ended in August. The retailer posted losses of $64 million, 50% more than the previous year. What’s worse, the company has about $40 million in debt it can draw off. It blew through nearly $90 million in its second quarter alone, two-thirds of a loan it received in May.

The good news: The company has been taking steps to conserve cash. It is closing 125 stores and is streamlining expenses. This downsizing is reflected mostly in the company’s stock price, which has been cut by two-thirds in the past year. The company has declining operating profit, but it is still positive, suggesting that if it did restructure, there is enough value to save it rather than liquidate the business altogether.

Swan song likelihood: Pretty low.


The bad news: The company is on its 9th life. Though returning CEO Myron Ullman is pushing hard on a new strategy, the retail chain continues to post losses. Sales declined once again in its most recent quarter, which disappointed shareholders. Operating cash flow is positive, but just barely, after taking out gains from a sale of assets.

The good news: Operating performance is improving and declines in sales have slowed dramatically, suggesting that JCPenney’s (JCP) turnaround plan is working. The company is looking toward the future in other ways. The board has hired Home Depot’s Marvin Ellison to run the company starting August 2015, suggesting it has no intention of closing down. The turnaround plan will work if the firm doesn’t run out of cash first.

Swan song likelihood: 50/50.


The bad news: Standard General’s $120 million loan, given in October, might be seen as a vote of confidence for the electronics retailer. But the hedge fund can still make money if RadioShack goes bankrupt and is liquidated. Its loan is backed by inventory and receivables, according to Fitch. Both those pieces of collateral should cover Standard General’s loan in a liquidation. The loan is no more than a last ditch lifeline for the company to make it through the holidays.

Given that RadioShack’s (RSH) earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization are deep in the red, there isn’t much value to save once it runs out of cash. When that happens, RadioShack will almost certainly close down.

The good news: Not much.

Swan song likelihood: Near certainty.