A worst-case scenario appeared to have been avoided late Sunday as CIT Group Inc. was reported to have reached a tentative $3 billion financing deal with bondholders, allowing the entire apparel supply chain to breathe a large sigh of relief.


News of the deal — the most welcome about CIT in more than a week — allowed suppliers and retailers a respite as they sought to cope with the potentially catastrophic effects a CIT bankruptcy would have had on the shipment of fall and holiday goods by vendors, as well as the day-to-day credit requirements of many stores. An attempt by CIT last week to secure a second round of federal financing ended in failure.

With CIT’s fate uncertain as the weekend began, many small and midsized companies continued to work on contingency plans, reaching out to other lenders. Others simply were hoping to get paid for shipments and not end up as unsecured creditors to the commercial lender. Even with bridge financing in place, vendors and retailers that were CIT clients are likely to continue to explore their options this week, which could place further pressure on the beleaguered lender.

Late Sunday, CIT was reported to have reached a $3 billion financing deal with key bondholders, including Pimco, Oaktree Capital Management and Centerbridge Silver Point, according to The Wall Street Journal. CIT had been in talks for a $2 billion to $3 billion deal throughout the weekend and at the same time was talking to major banks about debtor-in-possession financing in the event of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

A CIT spokesman did not return calls for comment late Sunday.

A CIT bankruptcy — which could have come as early as Monday if a deal hadn’t been reached — could have had a far-reaching impact on the apparel industry. The 101-year-old lender accounts for an estimated 60 percent of the fashion industry’s factoring volume and lent the industry about $4 billion last year.

Although best known as a factor for manufacturers, its activities reach well beyond Seventh Avenue. In addition to guaranteeing payment for shipments by 2,000 vendors who sell to 330,000 retailers across multiple industries, CIT also lends money to smaller firms. CIT’s woes cast a shadow over the fashion industry last week as many companies wondered if they could get out of their financing deals with the lender and if they would be able to pay employees or even stay in business.

The financing deal puts the CIT crisis on hold — but doesn’t solve it.

“We’re in unchartered territories,” said Monica Forman, president of Magaschoni, which uses CIT for collection and credit checking. “I don’t think a lot of people can survive any more hits. We are looking at all the laws that govern the contracts. We’re trying to best understand what’s legally allowed.”

CIT’s difficulties have rippled up and down every link of the supply chain.

“Everyone is tied to CIT,” said Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer of Nicole Miller. “We don’t bank with them, but we write checks to CIT every day because our suppliers are banked by CIT. When a fabric or trim maker gets ready to ship his customer, he gets approval from CIT, turns his invoice over to CIT and gets paid the amount of the invoice from CIT.”

Some could have nowhere else to turn for financing if CIT were to fail.

“It’s not a coincidence that a large portion of the industry does business with CIT,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents U.S. textile producers. “It’s generally a function of the fact that they haven’t been able to get credit from other sources.”

Tharanco Group, a holding company with apparel brands, notified retail partners it was placing a 48- to 72-hour hold on shipments. “We are pretty hopeful that they can spin [the factoring unit] off, sell it or raise the funding they need,” said ceo Haresh Tharani.

“We’re in a wait-and-see holding pattern,” said CIT client Victor Rousso, ceo of Rousso Apparel Group, which produces Oleg Cassini casual activewear. “We are shipping and have not held back in bringing merchandise to our customers. We’ve spoken to a number of factors and have financing lined up if [we need to] get out of the CIT agreements. We like to make clothes. These days, we’re [spending more time] with attorneys and accountants.”

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