Battle-scarred Steinhoff tries to rise again
Troubled retailer starts new year with a new CEO and a plan to restructure
● New year, new boss for Steinhoff International after an annus horribilis of shedding assets and herding creditors into deals to keep the battered retail conglomerate afloat.
Louis du Preez, the lawyer who took the reins as CEO last week, has at least two dates looming large on his calendar, one in February and one in April.
Mid-April has been set for the release of the group’s long-awaited financial results.
When the publication of Steinhoff’s financial results was first delayed early in December 2017 due to “accounting irregularities”, long-time CEO Markus Jooste resigned and the company’s share price tumbled more than 90% in a week.
Getting auditors Deloitte to sign off those financial statements, along with the latest year’s numbers, will be a major milestone for Du Preez and Steinhoff, but there is little hope of a full recovery any time soon.
Filings since Jooste’s departure have revealed the group’s debt to be much larger than previously disclosed. The valuation of some assets, such as its European property portfolio, has also since been adjusted down to more realistic levels.
The result is a company worth much less than previously thought. Steinhoff now has a market capitalisation of around R7bn, putting it in the league of midcap stocks — far from the blue chip it once was.
But before the financial results can be released, PwC needs to complete a forensic audit. The deadline for the release of PwC’s report had long been pegged as end of last year, but has since been pushed out to the end of next month.
“The extent of the wrongdoings in terms of monetary value is still an unknown. It is this that will guide the share price over the next few months. It is complete speculation at this point in time,” said Gryphon Asset Management portfolio manager Casparus Treurnicht.
Meanwhile, investigations into alleged malfeasance are under way in Germany, where Steinhoff is listed, the Netherlands, where it is incorporated, and SA, where it is headquartered.
After suffering such heavy losses, shareholders are lining up to sue. Several law firms are working together across jurisdictions to institute class-action lawsuits against Steinhoff, its directors and other institutions involved, claiming around R185bn in total.
Christo Wiese, the retail billionaire whose stake in Steinhoff dwindled to 6% from 23% in the wake of Jooste’s departure and whose visible wealth was halved by the collapse, is also suing. His family-controlled companies are claiming R59bn from Steinhoff.
Wiese sold the low-cost retailer Pepkor to Jooste and his team in 2014 in what was then a record R63bn deal, gaining control of Steinhoff in the process. Part of Wiese’s claim relates to the shares his family companies subscribed for in Steinhoff after the deal. The other part relates to a capital injection in 2016 when Steinhoff made its first foray into the US, buying bed retailer Mattress Firm for $3.8bn (R52.7bn).
After the Pepkor deal, Steinhoff went on an acquisition binge, lapping up not only Mattress Firm but also Poundland in the UK and Fantastic in Australia.
Late in 2017 Pepkor, along with some of Steinhoff’s other African retail assets, was listed as Steinhoff Africa Retail (Star) on the JSE.
But the cloud of accounting irregularities and uncertainty about the depth of the rot spooked investors, prompting Steinhoff to dispose of assets to stay afloat.
Steinhoff trimmed its stakes in Star and Kap Industrial Holdings, sold its shares in PSG Group, disposed of European retailer Kika-Leiner and settled a long-standing dispute with Austrian businessman Andreas Seifert over Poco.
Some of Steinhoff’s subsidiaries put some distance between themselves and head office. The Asia-Pacific business, which includes Fantastic, rebranded itself Greenlit Brands; Star renamed itself Pepkor; and Mattress Firm went into voluntary bankruptcy, emerging with Steinhoff’s stake diluted to 50.1%.
Nearly all of the group’s operating companies have renegotiated their financing.
“There is still a huge chunk of debt at group level. And the subsidiaries must pay generous dividends to the group holding company to survive. From the previous six-month results it seems like more disposals will be needed to service this debt,” said Treurnicht.
Du Preez has given himself some breathing space, having negotiated a voluntary arrangement with creditors that could give him and his team time to restructure the company. But the ride could be bumpy. A German company called LSW is challenging the arrangement with creditors, Steinhoff said on Friday.
There is still a huge chunk of debt at group level Casparus Treurnicht Gryphon Asset Management
Bed retailer Mattress Firm, Steinhoff’s first foray into the US when it bought the company for $3.8bn in 2016, went into voluntary bankruptcy.
Louis du Preez