U.S. Gap stops paying rents, warns it might not have enough cash for operations

By guest author Lauren Thomas from CNBC

  • Gap said it must take further action to find liquidity over the next 12 months, such as additional job cuts and new debt financing.
  • The company said it did not pay rent on its shuttered stores in April, which amounts to roughly USD 115 million in monthly expenses in North America.

Gap warned on Thursday, April 23, 2020, it may not have enough cash flow to sufficiently fund its operations as stores remain shut because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The apparel retailer said in a securities filing that it must take further actions to find liquidity over the next 12 months, such additional job cuts and new debt financing. It said other measures could include reducing receipts and orders for merchandise and, extending the terms for payment of goods and services.

It added that beginning this month, it stopped paying rent on its temporarily shuttered stores, which amounts to roughly USD 115 million in monthly expenses in North America.

Gap shares opened slightly higher after falling about 7% in premarket trading. Its stock has tumbled nearly 60 % this year.

The retailer, which also operates Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta, said it is negotiating with landlords to either defer rent payments or agree on an abatement. It said it is also trying to modify the terms of its leases. In some instances, it said it will be terminating leases and permanently closing stores.

“If we are unable to renegotiate the leases and continue to suspend rent payments, the landlords under a majority of the leases for our stores in the United States could allege that we are in default under the leases and attempt to terminate our lease and accelerate our future rents due,” Gap said.

“Although we believe that strong legal grounds exist to support our claim that we are not obligated to pay rent for the stores that have been closed … there can be no assurance that such arguments will succeed.”

The biggest mall owner in the U.S., Simon Property Group, has 412 Gap stores, including Banana Republic and Old Navy, at its malls. This makes Gap Simon’s biggest in-line tenant at its malls in terms of rent.

Simon did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Gap also cautioned that its profit margins could erode as it is forced to use steep discounts to try to sell merchandise. It warned that consumers could continue to worry about “becoming ill” with Covid-19, which would hurt store traffic. So far more than 2.6 million people worldwide have been sickened by the virus, and at least 46,785 people have died in the U.S. alone from it, according to Johns Hopkins University.

As of Feb. 1, 2020 Gap said its cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments totalled USD 1.7 billion. The company has already pulled down its full USD 500 million revolving credit facility.

By the close of its fiscal quarter ending May 2, it expects to have USD 750 million to USD 850 million in cash and cash equivalents, including its short-term investments.

“We expect the Covid-19 pandemic to have a material adverse impact on our business and financial performance,” the filing said. “The extent of the impact … will depend on future developments, including the duration and severity of the pandemic, which are uncertain and cannot be predicted.”

Just as the coronavirus began to slam the U.S. economy and force the closure of thousands of stores, Gap named a new CEO, its former Old Navy chief, Sonia Syngal, on March 23, 2020.

Gap also earlier this year called off plans to split Old Navy into a separate public company.

As of Feb. 1, 2020, it owned 3345 stores globally, while franchise locations totalled 574.