Hard to argue with Bill Ackman's assessment of the department store industry.
"The current version of the department store is dead," Ackman reportedly told a room full of onlookers at the Skybridge Alternatives Conference on Thursday evening, adding that the future of malls is likely part entertainment venue part place to buy a sweater.
The hedge-fund manager knows a thing or two about how terrible the department store space has been.
Ackman's Pershing Square took a nearly $500 million bath on an ill-timed bet on J.C. Penney (JCP) , cashing out in August 2013 after betting on a turnaround in 2010 under the leadership of former Apple (AAPL) executive Ron Johnson.
To be sure, Ackman's comments aren't exactly shocking news.
So far in May, announced store closings are nearly twice that of this time last year, while announced openings are up 20%, according to new data from global think tank Fun Global Retail & Technology. Overall, closings have been announced for 3,296 stores this year, up a disturbing 97 percent year-over-year. Most of the shuttered stores have comes from the department and specialty store categories.
Meanwhile, shares of the biggest names tethered to malls across the country have crashed over the past week due to strikingly weak first quarter results. In effect, already lagging stock prices for the likes of Macy's (M) , J.C. Penney and Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) have made new moves lower on fears the retailers won't be able to successfully navigate the shift to online shopping.
As a result, investors may now be wagering that retailers will be forced to announce a fresh round of store closures and layoffs sometime in early 2018 to cut costs. New Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette left the door open to more store closures -- beyond those already announced -- on a conference call with analysts. For some highly indebted names such as Sears, and to a lesser extent J.C. Penney, the volatile operating backdrop could be stoking concerns on whether the businesses will be around in five years time.
"It would certainly be unpleasant if we were in the department store business," Charlie Munger, who is Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.B) vice chairman, said at the company's recent annual shareholders meeting. "Just think of what we avoided, Warren."
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