North America Bankruptcy Review: Most Prevalent 2020 Failures

Our proprietary FRISK® score continues to warn of financial risk at major public companies across North America. In recent years, bankruptcy trends were relatively moderate with low interest rate environments and flush capital markets.  With the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 and its cash crunch inducing a decline in revenue, bankruptcy filings have surged, particularly at large, public companies. As we reach the end of the summer and the imminent arrival of Q4, it is worth reviewing the largest bankruptcies and overarching trends so far.

CreditRiskMonitor is a B2B financial risk analysis platform designed for credit, supply chain, and other risk managers. Our service empowers clients with industry-leading, proprietary bankruptcy models including our 96%-accurate FRISK® score for public companies and 70%-accurate PAYCE® score for private companies, and the underlying data required for efficient, effective financial risk decision-making. Public company coverage comprises more than 57,000 businesses worldwide, totaling $69.3 trillion in corporate revenue compared to global GDP of $85.9 trillion. Additionally, private company coverage includes information on millions of businesses the world over. Thousands of corporations around the world – including more than 35% of the Fortune 1000 – rely on our expertise to help them stay ahead of financial risk quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively.

High Profile U.S. Bankruptcies

The coronavirus pandemic caused the most significant financial damage to public companies during Q2 2020. During this period, five well-known companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection spanning various industries, including rental & leasing, communications services, oil production, oil services, and department stores. One resource provided by the CreditRiskMonitor service is our Bankruptcy Case Studies that demonstrate the red flags to look for in financially distressed public companies.

Company Industry Filing Date Liabilities Bankruptcy Case Study
Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. Rental and Leasing 5/22/2020 $22.7B Click here to read
Frontier Communications Corporation Communications Services 4/14/2020 $21.9B Click here to read
Chesapeake Energy Corporation Oil and Gas Production 6/28/2020 $11.8B Click here to read
California Resources Corporation Oil and Gas Production 6/30/2020 $7.3B Click here to read
J. C. Penney Company, Inc. Retail (Department Stores) 5/15/2020 $7.2B Click here to read

Among these top five operators, total liabilities before filing for bankruptcy reached $71 billion. That figure surpassed the total annual comparable figures for 2017 ($43 billion), 2018 ($48 billion), and 2019 ($54 billion) with less than 75% of 2020 in books. Compared to the average of $48 billion in the last three years, this 56% increase indicates that creditors have been exposed to far more financial risk in 2020 than they have in recent years. Additionally, as defaults and bankruptcies have trended higher, recovery rates on secured and unsecured credit claims have also dropped, producing a double-whammy for creditors at the bottom of the capital structure. Trade creditors represent the lowest level of creditors, sitting right above equity, and trade claims have been receiving close to nothing by the end of the bankruptcy process. 

As the Bankruptcy Case Studies illustrate for these five failures, the FRISK® score was trending within the high-risk “red zone” for more than a year and stood at the worst-possible score of “1” prior to filing. This warning signal allows counterparties the option to mitigate risk. 

The FRISK® score falling into the red zone is a profoundly important warning sign. The most concerning factor in each of these bankruptcies is that every company promptly paid their bills (as denoted by a green DBT Index) for a prolonged period while under severe and often increasing financial duress, as highlighted by their red zone FRISK® score. 

According to our research, about 80% of public companies continue to pay on time in the months leading up to their bankruptcy filings. This phenomenon is known as the “Cloaking Effect,” and all subscribers should be mindful of its potential for obscuring risk when evaluating public company risk. The DBT Index is also nearly analogous with Dun & Bradstreet’s PAYDEX® score, as both are calculated based on dollar-weighted historical payment patterns. CreditRiskMonitor always recommends comparing the FRISK® score with the DBT Index and/or the PAYDEX® score to identify meaningful divergences that aid in the direct identification of cloaking and allowing subscribers the opportunity to circumvent financial losses.

With all of that in mind, let’s examine two industries in North America that experienced the most bankruptcies because of the coronavirus pandemic: retail and energy.

Lingering Retail Apocalypse

Store closures were normal in the U.S. retail landscape with a few thousand annually, but that trend went parabolic a few years ago as closings exceeded 8,000 in 2017, more than 7,000 in 2018, well over 10,000 in 2019. So far in 2020, at least 6,300 stores have already shuttered and some retail analysts forecast that COVID-19 could make this a record year for store closures.

Part of this has been due to e-Commerce spending, which now commands more than 15% of all online retail market share, but with the additional pressure from the government-mandated shutdowns of nonessential businesses due to the coronavirus, retail sales have plummeted in Q1 and Q2. Consequently, retailers lost access to the vast majority of their revenue and distressed operators were unable to service their operating costs including rent, salaries, and interest obligations. Through August, fourteen public retailers have failed, two of which were headquartered in Canada and Mexico, respectively. All of these now-bankrupt retailers received FRISK® scores of “1”, the worst-possible level, before their filings.

Company Industry Filing Date Liabilities
Pier 1 Imports, Inc. Retail Specialty 2/17/2020 $1.3B
J. Crew Group, Inc. Retail Apparel 5/4/2020 $3.1B
Neiman Marcus Group LTD LLC Department Stores 5/7/2020 $7.0B
Stage Stores, Inc. Retail Apparel 5/10/2020 $1.0B
J. C. Penney Company, Inc. Department Stores 5/15/2020 $7.2B
Centric Brands Inc. Retail Apparel 5/18/2020 $2.2B
Reitmans (Canada) Limited Retail Apparel 5/19/2020 $0.4B
Tuesday Morning Corporation Department Stores 5/27/2020 $0.6B
GNC Holdings, Inc. Retail Food 6/23/2020 $1.6B
RTW Retailwinds, Inc. Retail Apparel 7/13/2020 $0.4B
Ascena Retail Group, Inc. Retail Apparel 7/23/2020 $2.5B
Tailored Brands, Inc. Retail Apparel 8/2/2020 $2.9B
Grupo Famsa SAB de CV Department Stores 8/6/2020 $1.2B
Stein Mart, Inc. Retail Apparel 8/12/2020 $0.8B

The retail industry has become more accustomed to bankruptcy liquidations. Several of the aforementioned names will not be emerging from bankruptcy, with creditors deeming that the business is worth more dead and harvested for spare parts than resurrected. We are all familiar with the liquidations of iconic Toys R Us and Sears Holdings and we are seeing a similar story in 2020 with the Chapter 7 bankruptcies at Pier 1 Imports and Stein Mart. Additionally, as the coronavirus shutdowns persist, other bankrupt industry operators such as J. C. Penney, Lord & Taylor, and Stage Stores are or have seriously considered liquidations due to ongoing conflicts with creditors. 

According to CreditRiskMonitor’s database, another 80+ companies in North America alone still score in the high-risk red zone, indicating financial stress and heightened risk of bankruptcy across the general merchandise, apparel and accessories, furniture, and miscellaneous retail industries. CreditRiskMonitor advises scrutinizing these retailers as they may also collapse into bankruptcy in the quarters ahead. 

Plugged & Abandoned 

The OPEC+ price war created a supply glut at roughly the same time that the coronavirus pandemic reduced demand for oil and gas globally. While certain portions of the industry are somewhat insulated (integrated majors, pipelines, and refineries), other areas such as exploration & production (“E&P”) and oilfield servicing segments continue to suffer from subdued energy commodity prices. Almost all E&P companies employ heavy levels of debt financing to support operations, leaving marginal producers dealing with severe financial challenges as crude oil and natural gas have remained lower for longer. 

CreditRiskMonitor’s database shows that about 270 of the 360 (75%) oil and gas (“O&G”) extraction companies we track are currently scoring within the red zone. For context, most crude oil blends today are approximately 30% or more below spot prices realized during 2019. Certainly, some E&Ps have greater scale, hedging programs, access to financing, readily saleable assets, and room to shift their capital allocations – all factors that will determine which companies survive and which file for bankruptcy. The oil and gas servicing operators are quite different as they are directly dependent on drilling and production volumes resulting in less profitable contracts and significant revenue declines.

Company Industry Filing Date Liabilities
Pioneer Energy Services Corporation Oil Services 3/3/2020 $0.6B
Delphi Energy Corporation Oil Production 4/14/2020 $0.2B
Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc. Oil Services 4/26/2020 $4.0B
Ultra Petroleum Corporation Oil Production 5/14/2020 $2.6B
Hornbeck Offshore Services, Inc. Oil Services 5/19/2020 $1.5B
Unit Corporation Oil Services 5/22/2020 $1.0B
Cequence Energy Ltd Oil Integrated 5/29/2020 $0.1B
Extraction Oil & Gas, Inc. Oil Production 6/14/2020 $2.3B
Chesapeake Energy Corporation Oil Production 6/28/2020 $11.7B
Lilis Energy, Inc. Oil Production 6/28/2020 $0.3B
California Resources Corporation Oil Production 7/15/2020 $7.3B
Rosehill Resources, Inc. Oil Production 7/26/2020 $0.5B
Denbury Resources, Inc. Oil Production 7/30/2020 $3.3B
Chaparral Energy, Inc. Oil Production 8/16/2020 $0.6B
Whiting Petroleum Corporation Oil Production 9/1/2020 $4.1B

The vast majority of the production and services companies that filed for bankruptcy sought out court protections during or slightly after the dramatic collapse of oil prices earlier this year. Among the three largest failures, total liabilities totaled to more than $30 billion.  The challenges are far from over with worldwide rig counts collapsing from over 2,000 in 2019 to only 1,000 today.  The impact of this decline from an earnings and cash flow perspective cannot be overstated.  When looking at the U.S. specifically, total rig counts have declined from approximately 800 to only 250, representing a year-over-year decline of nearly 70%. More oil and gas bankruptcies from both production and services should be anticipated unless the price of crude experiences a substantial and sustained recovery, both of which seem to be distant possibilities for the remainder of 2020. 

Bottom Line

Record levels of corporate debt in combination with the 2020 coronavirus economic tremors have led to a massive surge in bankruptcy filings. From the retail and O&G industries alone, mega-bankruptcies with total liabilities exceeding $1 billion tallied up to 20 companies. In nearly every one of these cases, the companies continued paying their bills on time, disguising the extent of their financial strain. The FRISK® score highlighted these distressed companies, placing them deep within the high-risk red zone, and providing ample warning to our subscribers to take action. Given that corporations have incurred even more debt through the coronavirus pandemic, we anticipate that heightened bankruptcy trends will continue throughout the remainder of 2020 and into 2021. While increased borrowing staved off the interim liquidity crisis, it does not solve the untenable capital structure issue that so many public companies struggle with today. Contact CreditRiskMonitor today to identify your riskiest customers and suppliers.

About CreditRiskMonitor

CreditRiskMonitor is a financial news and analysis service designed to help professionals stay ahead of public company risk quickly, accurately and cost-effectively. More than 35% of the Fortune 1000, plus thousands more worldwide, rely on our commercial credit reporting and predictive risk analytics for assessing the financial stability of more than 57,000 global public companies.

At the core of CreditRiskMonitor’s service is its 96%-accurate FRISK® score, which is formulated to predict public company bankruptcy risk. One of four key components calculated in the FRISK® score is crowdsourced subscriber activity. This unique system tracks subscribers' patterns of research activity, capturing and aggregating the real-time concerns of what are essentially the key gatekeepers of corporate credit. Other features of CreditRiskMonitor’s service include timely news alerts, the Altman Z”-Score, agency ratings, financial ratios and trends. CreditRiskMonitor’s network of trade contributors provides more than $2 trillion on their counterparties every year, giving them visibility into their biggest dollar risks.