Mall landlords, Authentic Brands in talks to buy JC Penney

JC Penney has been racing to firm up a business plan by a July 14 deadline.
JC Penney has been racing to firm up a business plan by a July 14 deadline.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - The two largest mall landlords in the United States and Authentic Brands Group LLC are in talks to buy bankrupt department-store chain JC Penney Co, according to people familiar with the matter.

Authentic Brands may team up with Simon Property Group Inc and Brookfield Property Partners LP to acquire the retailer as part of its court reorganization, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. The discussions are still fluid and may ultimately end without a deal.

JC Penney, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in May, has been racing to firm up a business plan by a July 14 deadline, after which the company risks running out of cash to finance its reorganization and emerge from bankruptcy court. The company's proposed exit plan involves creating two new publicly traded entities, including a real estate investment trust that would hold some of the retailer's property.

For the landlords, buying JC Penney would ensure the survival of one of their most ubiquitous tenants amid a wave of retail distress that has seen thousands of stores close permanently. That's in addition to the pandemic lockdown that shuttered most retailers for months nationwide.

Authentic teamed up with Simon and Brookfield to buy teen clothing chain Forever 21 out of bankruptcy earlier this year. And Authentic and Simon are also in discussions with Brooks Brothers Inc on a joint bid that would be part of a potential bankruptcy filing by that clothing retailer, Bloomberg News reported last week.

Brookfield, the second-largest US mall operator after Simon, in May announced the creation of a US$5 billion fund to buy stakes in retailers.

Authentic also owns Aeropostale after teaming up with the mall landlords to buy that brand out of bankruptcy in 2016. Its growing portfolio could be a boon to JC Penney if licensed product from those retailers were added to the department store's lineup.

Private equity firm Sycamore Partners has also held preliminary talks to buy JC Penney, weighing an acquisition outright or making an investment in the retailer, Reuters reported earlier this month.

JC Penney's remaining value includes its owned real estate and intellectual property from its private brands, according to David Silverman, a retail analyst at Fitch Ratings.

"The different companies that are potentially looking into JC Penney have different capabilities and options given the real estate that JC Penney has and the suitors' potential use with it," Mr Silverman said.