When Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) first announced it was in talks to sell itself, it came as a bit of a surprise.
Many wondered why any company, American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) and Express Inc. (EXPR) were rumored to have taken an interest, would want to buy the ailing retailer. So, when Abercrombie announced on Monday, July 10, that it had terminated discussions with "several parties" regarding a possible deal, it didn't come as a shock.
"After a comprehensive review of all relevant factors, with the assistance of our financial adviser, the A&F board of directors determined that the best path to enhance value for stockholders is the rigorous execution of our business plan," said Arthur Martinez, executive chairman of Abercrombie.
Shares of Abercrombie crashed 21.13% to $9.59 on Monday.
And while there could be a private equity turn-around play at Abercrombie, all signs seems to point to a long and hard road ahead for the 125-year-old company. For one, the company's apparel, once a darling of the tween and teen retail market, has fallen out of favor.
Compound that with the fact that its online sales are abysmal and the outlook for traditional brick-and-mortar and Abercrombie may be forced to go the way of Payless ShoeSource Inc. or Gymboree Corp., two recently bankrupt retailers, rather than that of Warby Parker Retail LLC or e-commerce site Bonobos, which continue to attract substantial investment for their innovative retail practices.
Here's likely why no company wants to buy Abercrombie.
Teens just aren't interested anymore.
Teens aren't buying Abercrombie clothes like they once were. While its Hollister brand has recently performed better than Abercrombie & Fitch, with a 3% same-store sales increase in its recent first quarter, it couldn't make up for the 10% comparable-store-sales plunge the retailer's name-sake brand saw in the same period. The company has been struggling to compete in a growing fast-fashion, promotional environment, with more sales going to rivals like TJX Co. Inc.'s (TJX) T.J. Maxx and H&M Hennes & Mauritz (HNNMY) , which provide more affordable options for teen shoppers.
"Store traffic headwinds in a promotional environment remain an industry challenge," Abercrombie CEO Fran Horowitz-Bonadies said on the company's recent earnings call. The retailer saw its total same-store sales drop 3% during the recent period.
Get with the times, Abercrombie.
While, Abercrombie's digital sales have improved slightly, with 27% of total sales coming from its online channels in its recent first quarter compared to 24% the year before, the sluggish growth likely won't sustain the retailer as more consumers turn to the convenience of e-commerce shopping with conglomerates like Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) . Recently, Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told TheStreet that over the next five years, one-fifth of the $3.6 trillion retail market in the U.S. is expected to shift online. Walmart Stores Inc. (WMT) is one of the only traditional retailers that appears to be able to compete in the evolving environment, with its e-commerce division spiking 69% in its recent quarter.
It's just not the time.
It's not the time to be banking on bricks-and-mortar apparel retailers. More and more are closing waves of stores, 26 by TheStreet's count, and more still are filing for bankruptcy, with the latest major Chapter 11 petition coming from True Religion Apparel Inc., following Sears Canada Inc. and Rue21, to name a few. In May, Cowen & Co. analyst Oliver Chen predicted that Abercrombie would follow the trend, estimating that it would be forced to shutter 20% to 25% of its stores by the end of this year.
In an email, Gene Urcan, managing director at Commerce Street Capital, said that Abercrombie could be forced to file for bankruptcy within 12 to 18 months.
The retailer is already working to close 60 of its some 700 U.S. stores by the year's end.
To be sure, the company could still land a transaction even after officially cancelling its review. Another mall-based retailer, Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) , announced on June 8 that members of its founding family are considering taking the department store operator private.
Industry sources have said Nordstrom would be a tough take-private candidate and judging by struggles that private equity has had in retail of late, Abercrombie is likely no different.
Three years ago, Abercrombie placated activist shareholder Engaged Capital LLC, which pushed the company to sell itself or replace its CEO, Mike Jeffries. Jeffries was ousted months later.
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