How’s this for a vote of confidence? The No. 1 mall developer, Simon Property Group, (SPG) thinks struggling and recently bankrupt teen apparel chain Aéropostale could bounce back in a major way and potentially double its store fleet.
The retailer, a mall fixture for years, was bought out of bankruptcy in September by a group of investors that included Simon and the No. 2 mall developer, General Growth Properties (GGP), The new owners, which also included Authentic Brands Group, and liquidators Hilco and Gordon Brothers, submitted a winning $243 million bid that avoided outright liquidation of the whole chain and aimed to keep it going as a 240-store chain, down from a pre-bankrupctcy size of 800-stores.
But Simon Property Group CEO David Simon told investors last week Aéropostale could recover to become twice that reduced size again.
“Right now we’re looking at around 500 stores,” Simon said. “We expect every one of those stores to be profitable.” He added: “The fact of the matter is we found out there’s a lot more store profitability out there than we thought.”
Aéropostale filed for bankrupcty in May, hurt by its inability to to return to growth in recent years as young consumers turn away from branded clothing and by the bloated size of a store fleet amid a 40% sales drop between 2011 and 2015. With fewer weak stores and new management, Aéropostale could recover nicely, according to its new owners.
Simon and GGP’s investments in Aéropostale puzzled many Wall Street analysts since it is almost unprecedented for such landlords to buy stakes in their tenants. Many theorized that after a spate of bankruptcies in retail in the last two years, including PacSun, Sports Authority and Wet Seal, mall owners were trying to mitigate the risk of rising vacancies. (Both Simon and GGP have occupancy rates in the mid-90’s percentages.)
But David Simon said the investment was mostly motivated by the prospect of a hefty profit thanks to the bargain basement price paid for Aéropostale, rather than by the need to save a tenant at many of its 100+plus malls. Indeed, Simon and GGP and their best performing rivals, Macerich (MAC) and Taubman Property (TCO) have had little trouble filling vacancies at their malls.
Besides, Simon’s share of the Aéropostale investment came to only $33 million, a pittance compared to the real estate company’s $65 billion stock market value.
“The only reason we decided to make this investment is because we believe we can make money,” Simon said, noting the low profit multiple of Aéropostale’s price at bankruptcy auction.