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Coronavirus May Kill These 4 Struggling Retailers

By Daniel B. Kline - Mar 17, 2020 at 8:08AM

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Shoppers are avoiding malls, and may have no need for certain items until the pandemic passes.

For a handful of retailers, the coronavirus has been a sales blessing -- Costco, Walmart, Target, and Amazon have all seen customers flood their physical and digital stores as they stock up for what may be weeks or months. These chains, as well as grocery stores and pharmacies, have benefited from actual need (people expecting to stay at home for a month need a lot of toilet paper), and the panic buying usually reserved for the days before major weather events.

Some struggling chains, however, don't sell anything (or much of anything) people need during this particular crisis. Those retailers may not make it out of the current crisis simply because they won't be generating the cash needed to keep paying their bills.

The exterior of a J.C. Penney.

J.C. Penney may not survive the current pandemic. Image source: J.C. Penney.

1. J.C. Penney

J.C. Penney (JCPN.Q) reported a surprise profit in the fourth quarter -- albeit a small one -- but it still saw same-store sales drop by 7%, and it only has $1.8 billion in liquidity available. New CEO Jill Soltau seems to have a solid turnaround plan, but there was always doubt as to whether the company had the cash to pull it off. Now, with much lower sales being extremely likely, vendors could get skittish, demand payment, and bankrupt the company before any meaningful changes get implemented.

2. Pier 1

Pier 1 (PIRRQ) (OTC: PIRRQ) has been struggling mightily and recently made plans to close about half of its stores after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company has received $256 million in financing to get through the closure process, according to The Dallas Morning News and it intends to sell the company (though it remains to be seen if there is a buyer interested).

Closing stores and selling off inventory that may have provided the company some cash in the short-term to pay down debt, or at least cover the cost of the closures. That is complicated by current retail conditions which could also limit the number of interested buyers.

Now the retailer has to decide whether to keep the stores open, close them but move the merchandise, or do some combination of the two. Neither option creates cash, and it seems unlikely that liquidation sales will clear out stores quickly or at all since people don't really need throw pillows or fancy plates during the current pandemic.

3. Bed Bath & Beyond

Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY -9.94%) does sell some cleaning products, household goods, and toiletries that people may be stocking up on. The problem is that those items are sort of the "beyond" part of the chain's business. They're not its core bedding and linens, or other things the chain focuses on like small appliances.

It may get some customers hoarding shampoo, but the dollar volume is likely to be poor. That's very bad news for a chain that has already announced layoffs, store closures, and a cost restructuring.

4. Sears

Sears (SHLDQ) has been on death's door for a long time. It survived one bankruptcy and keeps shrinking, losing money, and showing no signs that it has hit bottom. This disruption -- really any disruption -- may bring about the once-storied brand's ultimate demise.

It's probably going to be ugly

The coronavirus probably means that many retailers that don't sell things people need for daily life/survival may take massive hits. That' probably not a problem for healthy companies -- the numbers will be ugly, but customers will come back -- but for struggling retailers, this may be the end.

It's actually hard to imagine that any of these four brands had a realistic shot at survival anyway. The coronavirus, however, probably ends any chance of a comeback or turnaround.

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Stocks Mentioned

Pier 1 Imports, Inc. Stock Quote
Pier 1 Imports, Inc.
Sears Holdings Corporation Stock Quote
Sears Holdings Corporation
J. C. Penney Company, Inc. Stock Quote
J. C. Penney Company, Inc.
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. Stock Quote
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc.
$8.70 (-9.94%) $0.96
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Stock Quote
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
$119.20 (0.11%) $0.13
Target Corporation Stock Quote
Target Corporation
$155.36 (1.26%) $1.93
Costco Wholesale Corporation Stock Quote
Costco Wholesale Corporation
$416.43 (-1.54%) $-6.50, Inc. Stock Quote, Inc.
$2,151.82 (0.25%) $5.44

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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