NEW YORK — The auction for the assets of Aéropostale was still in progress at press time Monday, and it is believed that three liquidators were likely bidding, as well as Sycamore Partners.
Professionals who keep close tabs on distressed firms said they expect the liquidators to be aggressively pursuing the right to liquidate Aéropostale’s inventory and store leases. It remained unclear who was bidding for what, although in these types of auctions it is not unusual for the dynamics to shift mid-auction and for liquidators to suddenly combine forces to form a consortium to outbid a competitor. The names that surfaced as actively circling around the bankrupt retailer are Gordon Brothers Group and Hilco Merchant Resources, Great American Group and Tiger Capital. Executives at those three firms, as well as Sycamore, could not be reached for comment.
While Sycamore also made an offer, it is unclear exactly what it was bidding on, although the private equity firm was expected to use its advantage by providing a credit bid, or using its position as a secured creditor of $150 million as currency. An affiliate of Sycamore was a pre-petition lender. Sycamore’s path was cleared on Friday when Manhattan Bankruptcy Court Judge Sean Lane ruled there was no reason not to allow a credit bid.
One professional who tracks bankruptcies said it would make sense for Sycamore — which has been pushing for a liquidation — to bid for Aéropostale’s intellectual property assets. The financial firm has experience in buying the IP assets of bankrupt firms. Sycamore owns the Coldwater Creek name, which it acquired after the bankrupt retailer decided it couldn’t restructure the business. Coldwater Creek has since resurfaced as an e-tailer. It also sends out a catalogue to consumers. Whether that makes sense for the Aéropostale brand is unclear, since the teen retailer in more recent years has been targeting a younger customer more in the “tweens” space, one who relies on mom and dad to foot the bill at the register.
While Sycamore could bid on the company as a going concern, that would make sense only if it thought it could, over time, restructure operations and get back the $150 million it loaned to the retailer, not to mention the $53 million it lost on its equity investment in Aéropostale shares. Sycamore paid $54 million to acquire those shares.
Another possibility that surfaced was that Sycamore might be more interested in the retailer’s GoJane.com asset. Aéropostale acquired the women’s fashion footwear and apparel e-tailer in November 2012 for an undisclosed amount.
Aéropostale, which filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection on May 4 in Manhattan, said in mid-July that a “reorganization on a stand-alone basis is not feasible.” The retailer and its team of financial advisers had been exploring strategic options since February, and had tried to find a stalking horse. Versa Capital earlier this month emerged as a possible lifeline to acquire certain assets and keep the business as a going concern. That stalking horse agreement never materialized over concerns that Sycamore would be allowed to submit a credit bid.
A liquidation of the retailer would leave more than 10,000 jobs lost in the retail sector this year from closures and liquidations, which have included store cuts at Macy’s Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears Holdings, as well as the liquidation of nameplates including Sports Authority.