TEXT-S&P revises Gap Inc's rating outlook to positive

Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:37pm EST

Related Topics

Overview
     -- U.S. specialty apparel retailer Gap Inc. reported strong
operating performance in recent quarters, with meaningfully increased operating
margins and consistent, positive same store sales.
     -- We are revising our outlook on Gap to positive from stable. 
     -- At the same time, we are affirming our ratings on Gap, including the 
'BB+' corporate credit rating.
     -- The positive outlook reflects that we could raise the ratings if Gap 
continues its positive operating performance trend, with expanding margins and 
positive same store sales, warranting a change in our assessment of Gap's 
business risk profile.

Rating Action
On Nov. 20, 2012, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services revised its outlook on 
San Francisco-based specialty apparel retailer The Gap Inc. (Gap) to positive 
from stable. At the same time, we affirmed our ratings, including the 'BB+' 
corporate credit rating on the company.

Rationale
The rating on Gap reflects Standard & Poor's Ratings Services' assessment of 
the company's "fair" business risk profile and "intermediate" financial risk 
profile. Gap's business risk profile reflects our view of Gap's good market 
position in casual apparel, strong brand name, and geographic diversity. We 
also believe Gap has demonstrated some improvement in product merchandising 
and regaining customer traffic in recent quarters, as same-store sales turned 
positive in the first three quarters of 2012. Our analysis is tempered by the 
intensely competitive nature of apparel retailing. We also believe that 
specialty apparel trends will continue to be difficult to predict, and that 
Gap will remain vulnerable to changes in fashion. As a result, the company's 
performance could be uneven because of the timing of consumer buying and 
changing fashion trends.  

We expect margins to expand in the remainder of 2012 and in the first half of 
2013, as commodity pressure eases and sales continue to improve. Following 
significant margin deterioration in fiscal 2011, primarily because of higher 
commodity prices (especially for cotton), margins have started to recover in 
recent quarters. As of Oct. 27, 2012, EBITDA margin for the last 12 months was 
17.2%, comparable with 17.5% a year ago. 

Our forecast for the company's operating performance is as follows: 
     -- Revenue rises modestly, reflecting flat to low-single-digit positive 
comparable sales and continuing unit growth internationally;
     -- EBITDA margins improve to about 18.8% at year-end 2012 and then to 
about 20% in fiscal 2013; and
     -- The company continues to generate solid free operating cash flows 
(FOCF) in the $900 million area in fiscal 2012 and we believe it will fund its 
shareholder initiatives primarily with FOCF.

We view Gap's financial risk profile as intermediate, reflecting its 
consistent good cash flow generation and credit measures that are in line with 
an intermediate financial risk profile. As of Oct. 27, 2012, total debt to 
EBITDA was 2.1x and funds from operations (FFO) to total debt was 41%. We 
believe Gap' short average store lease tenor makes our adjusted credit ratios 
appear somewhat stronger than they would be if longer lease tenors were used. 
Still, we believe that credit metrics will improve moderately in the remainder 
of 2012 and in 2013, and remain in line with an intermediate financial risk 
profile.  

Liquidity
Gap's liquidity profile is "strong," in our view. The company should be able 
to withstand substantially adverse market circumstances over the next 24 
months while maintaining sufficient liquidity to meet its obligations. Our 
assessment of Gap's liquidity profile incorporates the following expectations, 
assumptions, and factors:
     -- We expect liquidity sources to exceed uses by 1.5x or more over the 
next 12 months. Even over the next 24 months, we believe the measure will 
remain above 1.0x. 
     -- We also expect net sources to be positive, even with a 30% drop in 
EBITDA.
     -- Covenant compliance would also survive a 30% drop in EBITDA.
     -- The company appears to have well-established, solid relationships with 
its banks and a generally high standing in credit markets. 

As of Oct. 27, 2012, Gap had $1.7 billion of cash and ample availability under 
its $500 million revolving credit facility due 2016. The company's share 
repurchase activities have moderated in fiscal 2012, with year-to-date 
repurchases of $467 million, significantly less than the $2.1 billion in 
fiscal 2011. It generated over $800 million in FOCF in fiscal 2011 and we 
believe that free cash flow generation could rise above $900 million in fiscal 
2012. Cash on hand, cash flow, and availability under the revolver provide 
adequate liquidity sources to fund the company's capital spending, dividends, 
and share repurchases. 

Gap's revolving credit facility contains financial covenants (leverage and 
fixed-charge ratios). It was in compliance with these covenants as of Oct. 27, 
2012, and we expect covenant cushion to remain adequate.

Recovery analysis
For the complete recovery analysis, see Standard & Poor's 
"here
7041717&rev_id=6&sid=982065&sind=A&", published Dec. 15, 2011, on 
RatingsDirect.

Outlook
The outlook is positive. We could raise the ratings if Gap continues its 
positive operating performance trend, with expanding margins and positive same 
store sales, including the fourth-quarter holiday season. This performance 
could warrant a change in our assessment of Gap's business risk profile.

We could revise the outlook to stable if the company is unable to maintain 
positive same store sales and margin expansion in the next several quarters. 
We could also revise the outlook to stable if the company adopts more 
aggressive financial policies--for example, if it increases debt by about $1.7 
billion to buy back shares.

Related Criteria And Research
     -- Business Risk/Financial Risk Matrix Expanded, Sept. 18, 2012
     -- Liquidity Descriptors For Global Corporate Issuers, Sept. 28, 2011
     -- 2008 Corporate Criteria: Analytical Methodology, April 15, 2008

Ratings List

Ratings Affirmed; Outlook Action
                                        To                 From
The Gap Inc.
 Corporate Credit Rating                BB+/Positive/--    BB+/Stable/--

Ratings Affirmed; Recovery Rating Unchanged

The Gap Inc.
 Senior Unsecured                       BB+                
  Recovery Rating                       3                  


Complete ratings information is available to subscribers of RatingsDirect on 
the Global Credit Portal at www.globalcreditportal.com. All ratings affected 
by this rating action can be found on Standard & Poor's public Web site at 
www.standardandpoors.com. Use the Ratings search box located in the left 
column.
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