Exclusive: J. Crew turns again to debt restructuring lawyers - sources

(Reuters) - J. Crew Group Inc has tapped restructuring lawyers for the second time in as many years to explore options for reworking its debt, as the U.S. clothing chain struggles with falling sales and a dwindling cash pile, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A J.Crew store is seen in Manhattan, New York March 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The company’s decision to once again seek help with its debt underscores the persistent business challenges J. Crew faces. A shift to pricier apparel turned off some shoppers, and the company faces competition from Inc and other e-commerce firms that have squeezed an array of traditional retailers.

The preppy fashion retailer in recent weeks enlisted restructuring attorneys at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, the law firm that helped negotiate a previous debt workout for the company and most recently steered department store operator Sears Holdings Corp through bankruptcy proceedings, the sources said.

Weil lawyers with capital markets and mergers and acquisitions expertise are also involved in the discussions with J. Crew, one of the sources said.

J. Crew, which was taken private in 2011 by TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners in a roughly $3 billion leveraged buyout, is also interviewing restructuring specialists at investment banks, the sources said.

In a statement to Reuters on Thursday, the company did not directly address whether it has approached restructuring lawyers but said it has “been evaluating and executing on opportunities to strengthen J. Crew’s balance sheet” and that its top priority this year is to return its flagship brand to profitability and sustain momentum for its quickly growing Madewell apparel business.

A TPG spokesman declined to comment. Representatives for Leonard Green and Weil did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A bankruptcy filing is not currently on the horizon for J. Crew, which carries a debt load exceeding $1.7 billion, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition they will not be identified because the deliberations are confidential.

The New York-based retailer is in the early stages of exploring options for its debt that could include a refinancing, the sources said. The discussions are aimed at addressing looming debt maturities in 2021, one of the sources added.

The company has not yet approached creditors about a restructuring, though it could eventually do so, one of the sources said. J. Crew has previously considered hiving off Madewell through a sale or public offering, Reuters has reported.

J. Crew’s term loan was trading around 66 cents on the dollar on Wednesday, according to financial information provider Refinitiv, reflecting investor concerns about the retailer’s financial health.

The retailer’s operations chief, Michael Nicholson, this month called full-year 2018 financial results for the company’s J. Crew brand “disappointing” and said new strategies were not successful and hurt the chain’s financial performance. He added that the company’s leaders took immediate action to improve profits.

In January, Millard “Mickey” S. Drexler, J. Crew’s former chief executive, stepped down as chairman and now serves as an adviser to the board.

J. Crew in 2017 reached a deal with creditors, including Blackstone Group LP’s GSO Capital Partners and Anchorage Capital Group, on a debt exchange that roughly cut in half nearly $567 million in bond obligations, and extended their due date by two years.

Talks in 2014 to sell J. Crew to Japan’s Fast Retailing Co, the owner of the Uniqlo apparel chain, fell apart.

J. Crew, which has sold clothes once donned by former first lady Michelle Obama, had about $25.7 million in cash as of the beginning of February, down from roughly $107 million a year earlier, and the company has booked financial losses in seven of the last eight quarters, according to securities filings.

Reporting by Mike Spector and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Steve Orlofsky