Yahoo! Finance (Link) - Forbes.com - Tom Van Riper (January 21, 2009)
While industry executives and shoppers will remember 2008 as the year the party ended, figure 2009 to be the year of the hangover. Already, Circuit City, Linens 'N Things and Mervyn's stores are going away. Sharper Image is too, though the company will continue to sell some of its high-end gadgets through license agreements with other retailers.
More pain is on the way. One-third of U.S. women recently surveyed by America's Research Group said they plan no clothing purchases--none--in 2009. Normally, it's just 4%. That means the market is still far too saturated with stores.
Expect closings to rattle the likes of Lane Bryant, Gap, and Starbucks. It's the inevitable counterpunch to the days of retailers fighting hand over fist for market share during an era of loose credit and minuscule interest rates. Those days are over, probably for a long time. While accelerating unemployment will only last so long, consumers' debt loads and credit access don't figure to recover to pre-party levels for quite awhile.
"I don't think we will live the same way for 10 years," says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of New York-based retail consultant and investment bank Davidowitz & Associates. "People are so scared they're starting to save."
Retailers at risk in 2009, he thinks, include outerwear specialist Eddie Bauer and teen-apparel-seller Pacific Sunwear, along with Zales, the big jewelry chain. All three shuttered at least 8% of their U.S. stores last year, with many more closings expected. The same is largely true of Charming Shoppes, the owner of Lane Bryant, Catherine and Fashion Bug, which closed 150 stores last year. With a mountain of debt and losses totaling more than $260 million during the most recent 12-month reporting period, the company will close another 100 locations this year. Chief Financial Officer Eric Specter insists there is no cash squeeze, pointing out that the bulk of the company's debt isn't due until 2014. "We will have no problems meeting our obligations," he says.
Another possible casualty: Sears Holdings, operator of Sears and Kmart stores. A key to hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert's 2005 merger of the two chains was in the underlying real estate. But with those values down 30% or so since then, slumping sales hit even worse. "I'd be surprised if Sears-Kmart makes it through the year," says Britt Beemer, who runs retail market-research firm America's Research Group.
Non-apparel specialists like Starbucks and Sprint Nextel won't be going away, but they will close hundreds more stores during the coming year, Davidowitz predicts. Narrow specialties (Sprint's cellphones) and high prices (Starbucks' coffee) are tough sells as the consumer mood turns thrifty. What plagues Starbucks will also affect other upscale goody chains like Mrs. Fields' Cookies, and causal dining outlets like Applebee's and Cheesecake Factory. Any of the neighborhood outlets for those restaurant chains could be a casualty this year. For too many customers now, it's McDonald's or bust.
Davidowitz doesn't think a huge government stimulus will help. Better to let things bottom out naturally before regrouping. "Obama's plan will make it worse," he says. "We got into this by borrowing and stimulating, now he wants to borrow and stimulate more."