J.Crew RTW Fall 2017

Debt watchdog Moody’s Investors Service is feeling a little more bullish on J. Crew Group Inc.

The rating agency changed its outlook on the retailer’s debt to “positive” from “stable” and reaffirmed the company’s Caa2 corporate family rating, which still indicates the debt is “subject to very high credit risk” under Moody’s scale.

Moody’s pegged the change in outlook to steps the company’s taken to lessen its debt load as well as a confidence in its efforts to improve sales and earnings.

J. Crew has reduced its leverage by about 2.5 times since the July 2017 debt exchange, as a result of cost savings and growth at the Madewell brand,” said Raya Sokolyanska, Moody’s vice president and lead analyst for J. Crew.

“The sustainability of earnings momentum going forward depends on J. Crew’s ability to stabilize and grow the namesake brand,” Sokolyanska said. “Comparable-sales declines are decelerating, driven by a number of initiatives that could lead to a return to revenue growth — such as adding subbrands and product categories, improving omnichannel capabilities, shortening the product cycle and growing wholesale partnerships including Nordstrom in North America.”

West Elm veteran James Brett took over the reins as chief executive officer at J. Crew last summer, when Millard “Mickey” Drexler stepped aside. At about the same time, the company also refinanced its debt with an exchange, backed by the J. Crew trademark, that gave it some much-needed breathing room.

In the fourth quarter, J. Crew posted adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $64.6 million, up from $51.5 million, a year earlier. Revenues increased 2 percent to $710.6 million, with the help of an extra week compared with a year earlier. Comparable sales decreased 3 percent.

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