Last month, RadioShack Corporation (NYSE:RSHCQ) announced plans to close up to 1,100 stores. Comparable-store sales at the struggling electronics chain fell 8.8% last year, culminating in a 19% decline during the fourth quarter. This led to a full-year adjusted loss of more than $300 million, and RadioShack's management clearly recognized the need for drastic action to stop the bleeding.
However, RadioShack needs the approval of two major creditors to close this many stores. So far, it has not succeeded in getting the lenders on board, according to The Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, the delay is further endangering RadioShack's long-term survival chances. Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) would be the biggest beneficiary if RadioShack goes under, as it would become the last national electronics retailer.
Too many stores
In previous years, RadioShack pursued growth by placing stores closer and closer together. This was a viable concept when the company was primarily selling specialized electronics items that were not widely available and therefore carried high margins.
By contrast, today RadioShack's business is heavily weighted toward selling mobile products: cellphones, tablets, and related accessories. Competition is brutal in this market. RadioShack competes with wireless carriers, online retailers, discount stores, Best Buy's big-box stores, and small-format Best Buy Mobile stores. As a result, RadioShack's gross margin has plummeted in recent years.
In this context, it's no surprise that RadioShack cannot support the operating costs of its massive store base, which includes more than 4,000 company-owned locations. In many markets, the company has far more real estate than it needs. One RadioShack executive recently noted that it had eight stores within five miles of his home in Fort Worth! Closing stores is thus a no-brainer.
Problems with the lenders
That said, under its new loan and credit line agreements, RadioShack needs its lenders' consent to close more than 200 stores per year. Agreeing to the store closing plan should also be a no-brainer for the lenders.
However, some lenders are hoping to receive a portion of the cash RadioShack would free up from liquidating nearly 25% of its inventory. Others are concerned that the store closing plan doesn't go far enough. RadioShack seems to have a problem of "too many cooks in the kitchen."
The longer these negotiations take, the longer RadioShack will continue to burn cash. Last year, the company only avoided a significant use of cash through a $242 million decline in accounts receivable that reduced working capital. RadioShack won't be able to replicate that performance going forward, and the company's $554 million of liquidity won't last long if it can only close 200 stores a year.
Best Buy executives must be happy
Best Buy faces many of the same headwinds as RadioShack, but it is in a much stronger position because it has a more diversified business. Best Buy's partnerships with popular brands like Samsung also give it an edge. Most important, Best Buy is still profitable, although its earnings have been going in the wrong direction.
While Best Buy could benefit from RadioShack's store closure plan -- which would lessen competition for its own stores -- it would benefit even more if RadioShack folded entirely. With RadioShack on the ropes, it would not be surprising if Best Buy becomes more aggressive in terms of marketing and promotions in hopes of taking market share.
RadioShack is in big trouble today. Unfortunately, lenders have it over a barrel, as it cannot close very many stores without getting permission. The lenders don't have much urgency to act because their claims are "first in line" if RadioShack were to go bankrupt. Shareholders don't have that luxury.
As a result, investors should stay far away from RadioShack. The company should be able to make it through 2014, but by the middle of 2015 it could face serious liquidity issues unless the lenders relent. Best Buy has better prospects, but it is still a very risky investment candidate. Even if RadioShack disappears, it will face brutal competition from discounters and online merchants that will make earnings growth challenging.
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Adam Levine-Weinberg has no position in any stocks mentioned, and neither does The Motley Fool. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.