Ann Taylor parent Ascena Retail files for bankruptcy

(Reuters) - Ascena Retail Group, owner of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday, succumbing to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic that has already pushed some of the biggest retailers to the brink.

Shares of Ascena plunged 20% in morning trading after the company also said it plans to close a number of stores and exit its plus-size apparel brand, Catherines.

The company, like many apparel retailers, has seen its business crumble due to the pandemic, as it was forced to close its stores and furlough employees during the lockdown period.

The company, which also owns apparel brands LOFT and Lou & Grey, has about 2,800 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Even as lockdown restrictions have eased in many states, demand for apparel in the United States has remained weak.

This has added to the troubles at Ascena, which has been struggling for years with declining sales and a mounting debt pile, due to strong online competition.

Since the beginning of March, a number of iconic retailers, including Neiman Marcus, J. Crew and J.C. Penney have filed for bankruptcy.

Ascena said on Thursday its restructuring agreement was supported by more than 68% of its lenders and has received $150 million in funding from existing lenders.

The company, which filed for chapter 11 in the bankruptcy court for the Eastern District of Virginia, also said it expects to reduce its debt by about $1 billion.

Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli