Retail turmoil claims major scalp as Toys ‘R’ Us files for bankruptcy protection

Wilmington/Bengaluru — Toys ‘R’ Us, the largest US toy store chain, filed for bankruptcy protection late on Monday.

This is the latest sign of turmoil in the retail industry, which is struggling against the onslaught of online shopping and discount chains.

The chain has 53 stores in SA, according to the store locater on its local website. But the Chapter 11 filing does not affect its operations outside the US and Canada.

The filing is among the largest ever by a specialty retailer and casts doubt over the future of its about 1,600 stores and 64,000 employees.

It comes just as Toys ‘R’ Us is gearing up for the holiday shopping season, which accounts for the bulk of its sales.

Operations outside the US and Canada also include about 255 licensed stores and joint venture partnerships in Asia, which are separate entities, and also not part of the bankruptcy proceedings, Toys ‘R’ Us said.

“While today’s decision does not necessarily mean it is game over for Toys ‘R’ Us, it brings to a close a turbulent chapter in the iconic company’s history,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.

Toys ‘R’ Us received a commitment for more than $3bn in debtor-in-possession financing from lenders including a JPMorgan-led bank syndicate and certain existing lenders, said the company, which also operates the Babies ‘R’ Us chain.

The financing, subject to court approval, reassures its suppliers that they will be paid for their Lego building blocks and Barbie dolls that are being shipped for the holiday season.

“We expect that the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a lasting and effective way,” CEO Dave Brandon said.

“Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5bn of long-term debt on our balance sheet.”

Its Canadian unit intends to seek protection in parallel proceedings under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Toys ‘R’ Us said.

The company’s Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us stores and e-commerce sites around the world are open for business, it said.

The company is saddled with debt from a $6.6bn buyout in 2005 led by KKR & Co and Bain Capital, together with real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust.

Toys ‘R’ Us has bonds falling due next year that have lost half their value this month, according to Thomson Reuters data, as investors have grown concerned about a possible bankruptcy.

The company opened a temporary store in New York City’s Times Square this year to capture more holiday shoppers, almost two years after it closed its flagship store barely a block away, driven out by high rents.

“Vendors have cut them off based upon the rumours of the filing which has not been refuted,” said Jay Indyke, a bankruptcy attorney with the Cooley law firm.

With assets of $6.9bn based on its most recent annual report, it is the second-largest retail bankruptcy, trailing the filing in 2002 by Kmart, which had $14.6bn in assets, according to research firm Bankruptcydata.com.

More than a dozen significant retail chains have filed for bankruptcy this year. Among them were Perfumania, apparel chains rue21 and Gymboree, discount shoe chain Payless Holdings and designer clothing chain BCBG Max Azria Global Holdings.

Major retailers including Macy’s and Sears have closed hundreds of locations as they struggle to compete against discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores and Amazon.com.

Amazon’s recent acquisition of high-end grocer Whole Foods Markets stirred speculation that the online giant will use its pricing power and huge reach among US consumers to go after market share of traditional brick-and-mortar grocers.

Toys ‘R’ Us is the second-largest toy seller in the US, behind Amazon, according to consulting firm Kloster Trading.

“What they have going for them is they are the last major player in their market,” said David Berliner, a partner and restructuring specialist with BDO Consulting.

“The vendors don’t want to see them fail, so I think they have a good opportunity to survive.”

Toys ‘R’ Us filed the petition in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia.

Reuters

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