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Economics

Retail Apocalypse: A Gift from the Federal Reserve

Written by Joe Scudder

The mainstream media is acknowledging a retail apocalypse is here and is spreading.

The mainstream media has awoken to the reality of the retail apocalypse. Instead of being relegated to alternative news sites like Zero Hedge we are reading about it from news sources like Bloomberg. Even pop videos are acknowledging the retail apocalypse.

And instead of pretending that the cause of retail problems are online sellers like Amazon.com, they are acknowledging that the real problem is unsustainable debt.

Bloomberg reports, “America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning.

The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.

The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster. The spillover will likely flow far and wide across the U.S. economy. There will be displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases and investor losses on stocks, bonds and real estate. If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.

Until this year, struggling retailers have largely been able to avoid bankruptcy by refinancing to buy more time. But the market has shifted, with the negative view on retail pushing investors to reconsider lending to them. Toys “R” Us Inc. served as an early sign of what might lie ahead. It surprised investors in September by filing for bankruptcy—the third-largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. history—after struggling to refinance just $400 million of its $5 billion in debt. And its results were mostly stable, with profitability increasing amid a small drop in sales.

But if debt is the problem, why did retailers take on so much debt? The answer is the Fed policy of lowering interest rates way low!

Retailers have pushed off a reckoning because interest rates have been historically low from all the money the Federal Reserve has pumped into the economy since the financial crisis. That’s made investing in riskier debt—and the higher return it brings—more attractive. But with the Fed now raising rates, that demand will soften. That may leave many chains struggling to refinance, especially with the bearishness on retail only increasing.

Read the entire Bloomberg story.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com


About the author

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder is the "nom de plume" (or "nom de guerre") of a fifty-ish-year-old writer and stroke survivor. He lives in St Louis with his wife and still-at-home children. He has been a freelance writer and occasional political activist since the early nineties. He describes his politics as Tolkienesque.

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