PetSmart taps advisers to trim $8 billion debt pile, say sources: Reuters

PetSmart Inc, the largest U.S. pet retailer, has hired restructuring advisers to explore ways to trim its debt pile of more than $8 billion as it continues to face falling profits, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move comes as PetSmart’s debt trades at a deep discount to its full value amid concerns the brick-and-mortar retailer’s big bet on online commerce has yet to pay off. PetSmart told investors in its bonds on Monday it would move part of its ownership of e-commerce website Chewy Inc away from the reach of its creditors.

PetSmart is working with investment bank Houlihan Lokey Inc (HLI.N) as it weighs its next steps, the sources said this week. While the company faces no significant debt maturities until 2022, it hopes to take advantage of the decline in the value of its bonds to trim its debt burden, the sources added, without specifying which specific course of action the company will take.

The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. PetSmart and Houlihan Lokey did not return requests for comment.

PetSmart’s woes come as the retail sector continues to struggle with the shift to online commerce and rapidly changing consumer tastes. More than 15 U.S. retailers, including Toys “R” Us Inc, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Private equity firm BC Partners Inc acquired PetSmart for $8.7 billion in 2014, as it sought to capitalize on consumers lavishing their pets with expensive treats and gear. However, the company quickly faced strong headwinds as many customers snubbed its stores for the convenience of online shopping.

In response, PetSmart acquired Chewy last year for $3.35 billion, the highest price ever paid for an e-commerce site. It was a bold move, with PetSmart adding $2 billion to its debt load to do the deal.

But Chewy has continued to lose money as it spends more on customer acquisition in order to boost its market share.

PetSmart’s bonds due in 2023 are now trading at about 55 cents on the dollar, according to Thomson Reuters data.

PetSmart moved 20 percent of Chewy to its private equity owners as a dividend, and another 16.5 percent to an unrestricted subsidiary, leaving existing creditors with a reduced claim on the e-commerce shop.

Debt-laden stressed retailers J. Crew Group Inc and Neiman Marcus Group Ltd have also moved collateral away from creditors as they try to slash their debt loads. J. Crew completed its debt restructuring out of court last year. Neiman Marcus has yet to address its debt.