March 14, 2019 / 3:59 PM / 10 days ago

Exclusive: Retailer Pier 1 taps debt restructuring lawyers - sources

(Reuters) - Pier 1 Imports Inc has tapped debt restructuring lawyers to navigate potential negotiations with lenders as it struggles with falling sales, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday, sending shares of the U.S. home furnishing retail chain sharply lower.

FILE PHOTO: The Pier 1 Imports store is seen in Broomfield, Colorado September 17, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Known for selling wicker chairs and scented candles, Pier 1 has suffered financial losses amid an increasingly competitive retail landscape dominated by the likes of Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc.

Pier 1, which has roughly 987 stores in the United States and Canada, has added debt restructuring specialists at Kirkland & Ellis LLP to a roster of advisers counseling the chain as it explores strategic alternatives, the sources said.

Pier 1 is also taking meetings with investment bankers who have debt restructuring expertise as it weighs options, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the company’s deliberations are confidential. As of December, the company had about $200 million in long-term debt.

Pier 1 shares plunged more than 45 percent in New York Stock Exchange trading to well below $1 after Reuters reported the company’s moves, leaving the retailer with a market capitalization of about $50 million.

A Pier 1 representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment and a Kirkland spokesman had no immediate comment. As of March 2018, the company employed roughly 18,500 people at its stores.

The engagement of Kirkland & Ellis restructuring lawyers, who typically work on significant bankruptcies and other financial workouts, marks a new chapter in Pier 1’s turnaround efforts after previous initiatives failed to bear fruit.

However, a bankruptcy filing is not yet on the horizon for Pier 1, which had about $71 million in cash as of December and $400 million available from a revolving credit line, one of the sources said. The company’s debt begins coming due in 2021, and it is cutting spending.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company in December said it hired Credit Suisse to advise on a “full range” of strategic alternatives and that its chief executive had stepped down. The company acknowledged that a transformation plan it had dubbed “A New Day,” unveiled last year, failed to deliver results fast enough.

Pier 1’s $200 million term loan coming due in 2021 is currently trading at about 50 cents on the dollar, according to data from financial services provider Refinitiv, indicating that investors are concerned about the company’s prospects. Lenders holding the debt have organized and tapped their own advisers, the people familiar with the matter said, a move that often presages restructuring negotiations between a company and its creditors.

Moody’s Investors Service Inc in December said Pier 1’s outlook was negative because of the chain’s weak operating performance and uncertainty over whether it would be able to turn around its business. Pier 1’s well-known brand may help it, though, the ratings agency said.

The downturn for retailers has led to high-profile bankruptcies including Sears Holdings Corp and Toys “R” Us Inc. In the recent rout, furniture chains like Pier 1 have so far been insulated from the upheaval.

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

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