By  on January 16, 2018

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. gets nearly another two weeks of breathing room.The retailer has entered into forbearance agreements with its ABL credit agreement lenders and an ad hoc group of holders of the company’s second lien secured notes due 2021. Under the terms of the agreements, the retailer has at least until Jan. 26 before the lenders and holders can exercise whatever option they choose in connection with Bon-Ton’s failure to make the interest payment on the notes. Bon-Ton was supposed to have made a $14 million interest payment on Dec. 15.The ABL forbearance agreement could be extended to Feb. 4, so long as the holders of the notes also agree to a further extension to that date.Bon-Ton has been in ongoing discussions with its debt holders in connection with its capital structure. The company did not immediately return a WWD query on Tuesday.There’s been growing speculation among credit analysts that the retailer is a candidate for a bankruptcy filing. The company has been on the watch list of several credit ratings agencies. Many credit analysts and factors believe that the ongoing discussions could include the option of a pre-packaged Chapter 11 filing.That speculation began gaining momentum last month, after the retailer elected to exercise a 30-day grace period under the terms of the indenture agreement. The delay in payment wasn’t a surprise since the regional department store has been struggling for years to dig out from under its debt load.A Bon-Ton spokeswoman at the time, in connection with the exercise of the 30-day grace period and market speculation, said, “As we have communicated recently, we are taking steps to drive improved performance and strengthen our financial position. We believe it is in the best interests of Bon-Ton and our stakeholders to take advantage of the grace period under the terms of our credit agreement to continue engaging with our lenders to establish a sustainable capital structure and position Bon-Ton for long-term success.”This spokeswoman also emphasized that the company has “sufficient cash to fund normal operations” and that exercise of the grace period didn’t have any impact on the firm’s ability to continue to borrow under its credit facility.Bon-Ton said on Jan. 8 that comparable-store sales for the nine-week holiday period ended Dec. 30, 2017 fell 2.9 percent. It also noted that total sales for the same period fell 4.2 percent to $720.8 million from $752.1 million a year ago.Bon-Ton in November posted a third-quarter net loss that widened to $44.9 million, or $2.19 a share, from $31.6 million, or $1.58, in the year-ago period, while comps fell 6.6 percent. In trying to turn around its fortunes, Bon-Ton, also in November, said it plans to close “at least” 40 doors. It currently operates 260 stores.The retailer operates stores under the nameplates Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers.

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