The Neiman Marcus Group, faced with a weak luxury market, reduced international tourist spending at gateway locations and huge debt, is doubling up efforts to manage the business through this tough period.
The Dallas-based luxury retailer is clamping down on expenses, including payroll and compensation, sharpening the focus on issuing chargebacks, returning merchandise to vendors to manage inventory levels, and has stepped up on the price promoting in recent seasons.
As far as selling the company, which it considered last year through an IPO that was nixed, it doesn’t appear in the cards, at least for the near term, financial and retail sources said this weekend.
A media report late Friday indicated that Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer of NMG, was in China talking to a potential buyer. Neiman’s had no comment on the report.
It is believed that NMG owners, Ares Management LLC and the Canada Pension Plan Investment, want to exit the business. They bought Neiman Marcus in 2013 for $6 billion, considered a hefty price tag even for a company considered by many to be America’s premier luxury retailer. NMG operates Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Mytheresa, Cusp, Horchow and Last Call. NMG was purchased from TPG and Warburg Pincus, which paid $5.1 billion in 2005.
Ares and the pension plan indicated that they were starting to look for an exit in August, when the firm filed for another IPO, but the timing was bad with the stock market in turmoil then, business being challenging, and the Chinese devaluing the yuan shortly after the paperwork for the offering was filed, spooking the global market. The process was shelved shortly after.
While business hasn’t been great for retailers in general, individuals familiar with Neiman’s operations said the company has been doing what it can to manage its cash flow.
Industry sources said the luxury retailer has been particularly aggressive this past season — more so than in past quarters — in seeking chargebacks from suppliers when it believes there’s been an error in orders it has received from vendors.
Factors said the chargebacks have been particularly brutal the last few months for all retailers — not just Neiman Marcus. Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York are also seeing reduced spending by luxury customers.
Several of these financial sources also said that while some retailers from specialty chains to department stores have been slower in paying invoices for orders shipped, that didn’t seem the case with Neiman.
NMG has also been taking heavy markdowns earlier in the season to clear excess inventory, and payroll expenses were reduced. Last fall, the company eliminated 500 jobs at stores, divisions and facilities, though senior positions and sales associates weren’t affected then.
This individual said those are all indications that management has been keeping tabs on its expense structure and that good controls are in place to manage operations in the current retail environment.
And despite the rumblings that Neiman’s private equity sponsors might be unhappy about the direction of its sales trends, financial sources — from factors to private equity firms and investment bankers — said it doesn’t appear that the company is for sale.
The core Neiman Marcus chain has limited growth prospects since there are few affluent communities — with the right demographics and psychographics — left that don’t have a Neiman’s store. Earlier this year, Neiman’s opened its first store on Long Island, in the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, N.Y. In perhaps one of its most daring moves, Neiman’s will open its first New York store in 2018 in Hudson Yards, which is under development on Manhattan’s West Side. Neiman’s is also opening in Fort Worth, Tex., in 2017.
The $5 billion Neiman’s could try to further grow overseas, in addition to operating the Munich-based Mytheresa.com, and shipping orders through neimanmarcus.com. Neiman’s works with Borderfree.
Among the countries Neiman’s ships to is China, which is where, according to last Friday’s New York Post story, Katz met with executives of Anbang Insurance Group, which tried to buy Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently and did buy New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.
But sources subsequently disputed that Katz is currently seeking a buyer.
Another growth opportunity could be with leased shops, also known as concessions. American retailers have increasingly been embracing what’s largely been a European business model. Historically, Neiman’s has held firm against it, with a couple of exceptions, one being Louis Vuitton.
Neiman’s could grow its Last Call and Last Call Studio outlet businesses, which compared to the Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off 5th off-price businesses, is far less developed.
Last quarter was a tough one for Neiman’s. Net income declined to $3.8 million from $19.8 million a year earlier and total revenues dropped 4.2 percent to $1.17 billion from $1.22 billion. Same-store sales fell 5 percent, and sales per square foot for the trailing 12 months were $558, down from $589. In a conference call with analysts this month, executives showed little outward sign of concern over the company’s indebtedness.
Aside from the business trend, debt is a concern. According to S&P Capital IQ, the company has total debt of $4.8 billion and a debt-to-EBITDA ratio of 8.2-times. Neiman’s has roughly $300 million in annual interest payments due to the debt.
Donald Grimes, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer, noted that the company decided to make payments on its debt yielding interest of 8.75 percent in cash, rather than in additional debt as was its option with the so-called payment-in-kind bonds. (Companies usually start to making their payments on PIK bonds with additional debt when they are looking to conserve cash.)
Pressed on why Neiman’s decided to pay with cash, Grimes said: “The rationale that we had sufficient liquidity to do so. And we got that with the best to use with the cash as opposed to taking the interest payment.”
He also added that the company could opt to make the interest payments in debt in the future.
“That is an option still available to us,” he said. “And I don’t mean for you or anyone else to read too much into that as apparently was the case last quarter, but that is an option at our disposal.”
Katz told investors that the company had cash on hand of $76 million and outstanding borrowings on its revolving credit facility of $265 million, leaving it with liquidity of $621 million at the end of the last quarter.