Pharmacy Chain Looks To Reject Leases
Pharmacy chain Rite Aid, facing significant debt and plagued by litigation related to filling prescriptions for opioids, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a move that’s expected to lead to the closing of hundreds of its stores.
The Philadelphia-based company in a statement Sunday said it had received a commitment of $3.45 billion from some creditors and lenders to support its business operations and to financially restructure. The retailer, which had already been shutting stores, has more than 2,100 retail pharmacy locations across 17 states. Its voluntary Chapter 11 petition was filed in New Jersey, and The Wall Street Journal reported the chain is looking to reject 168 leases in connection with the filing.
“Rite Aid regularly evaluates its store portfolio to ensure it is operating efficiently while meeting the needs of its customers, communities and associates,” the company said. “In connection with the court-supervised process, the company will continue assessing its footprint and close additional under-performing stores. These efforts will further reduce the Company’s rent expense and are expected to strengthen its overall financial performance.”
The filing will address at least one of Rite Aid’s major problems, the federal, state and private lawsuits charging that it oversupplied prescription painkillers, suits it said will be held in abeyance. Rite Aid said the Chapter 11 filing will allow it to “resolve litigation claims in an equitable manner,” accelerate the company’s store-footprint optimization plan, and “finalize and build consensus for the agreement in principle the company has reached with certain of its senior secured noteholders.”
In September the Journal reported that Rite Aid was in talks with its creditors, and that the pharmacy chain had proposed closing 400 to 500 of its stores, and either selling or allowing its creditors to take over its remaining operations.
Rite Aid didn’t respond to an email from CoStar News asking how many stores it now plans to close.
Top Executive Change
On Sunday Rite Aid also announced that it had appointed Jeffrey Stein as CEO, chief restructuring officer and a member of the company’s board, effective immediately. He succeeds Elizabeth Burr, who has served as Interim CEO since January.
“The court-supervised process provides Rite Aid with legal tools to accelerate our footprint optimization in an efficient and orderly manner,” Stein said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with our landlords to determine the best path forward for each of our stores.”
Rite Aid said A&G Realty Partners is assisting its store closing and lease restructuring program, and it suggested that its landlords reach out to the firm.
“The company is making every effort to ensure customers of impacted stores have access to health services, whether at another Rite Aid or a nearby pharmacy, and will work to transfer prescriptions accordingly so that there is no disruption of services,” Rite Aid said. “The company will also transfer associates at impacted stores to other Rite Aid locations where possible.”
Neal Saunders, a managing director at GlobalData, in a note said Rite Aid had “been deep in the red for the past six years, notching up combined net losses of $2.9 billion,” as well as having $3.3 billion of long-term debt sitting on the balance sheet.
“Its assets exceed its liabilities by $947 million — a figure that seems to constantly widen,” Saunders wrote. “Against this financial backdrop, Rite Aid simply isn’t a viable entity: it is basically running on the fumes of cash it generates in the day-to-day business. The pending lawsuits for opioid settlements, which by our estimates could end up costing the company around $1 billion, are simply the coup de grâce. Rightly or wrongly, Rite Aid cannot afford either the cost of the suits nor any settlement.”
Saunders also discussed the looming retail closings.
“Unfortunately, bankruptcy may see more shop closures which, unless other chains step in to acquire store assets, will leave some holes in the pharmacy landscape and potentially runs the risk of pharmacy deserts opening up in some locations,” he said.
Rite Aid didn’t respond to a request to comment on his remarks.
For the Record
Kirkland & Ellis LLP is serving as legal adviser, Guggenheim Securities is serving as investment banker and Alvarez & Marsal is serving as transformation officer and financial adviser to Rite Aid.