Meme stock traders have a new favorite stock: Zombie cosmetics company Revlon, which filed for bankruptcy protection last week.
Driving the news: Its shares – which face the very real prospect of being wiped out in bankruptcy proceedings – have caught fire. They’re up 615% since their low point last week.
Why it matters: This isn’t typically the market reaction after a company acknowledges it’s insolvent and files for Chapter 11 protection.
How it works: Bankruptcy court is where a company that does not have enough money to pay everyone is allowed time to figure out who will get paid what. Creditors – like bondholders and lenders – would have to get their money back in full before the shareholders see a dime.
- If there’s nothing left for shareholders, they take a zero. This happens all the time in bankruptcy court.
Flashback: Hertz became an OG meme stock after its 2020 bankruptcy when a Robinhood-fueled rally catapulted its shares, which Wall Street pros had deemed virtually worthless.
- Retail investors proved the haters wrong when shareholders recouped a tidy payout as part of Hertz’s bankruptcy plan.
Yes, but: Retail traders who want to replicate the Hertz win with Revlon could be in for a rude awakening.
- Hertz filed for bankruptcy at a unique moment in time – May 2020, basically the economic nadir of the pandemic. Its business had ground to a halt thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns, ultimately triggering what amounted to a freak margin call in its intricate stack of asset-backed debt.
- A few months later, with the economy awash in fiscal and monetary stimulus, summer weather beckoned lockdown-grizzled America out onto the road. Hertz actually had a business again.
But while Hertz was an indebted company that could not make its payments because of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, Revlon has been a poorly performing debt zombie for years. It previously completed distressed debt exchanges in an attempt to put off the inevitable.
- Its brick-and-mortar strategy of selling in drug stores failed to help it grow enough to service its debtload, as cosmetics sales shifted to online and direct-to-consumer models.
- And, zooming out, back when Hertz filed the market was headed into an upswing – good for valuations – while now, we’re barreling through bear territory.
These differences make it less obvious that there’s a temporary, Hertz-like valuation discount for Revlon shareholders to take advantage of, or a catalyst for a quick bounceback in the business.
- One wildcard: Fixing problems in its supply chain could unlock some value. But to really invest in that, Revlon would need to shed its overbearing, cash-gobbling debtload … which by definition will not happen in time to hand shareholders a recovery in a bankruptcy plan.
What the bond market says: Distressed debt hedge funds are in the business of buying bonds of bankrupt companies at huge discounts – say, 30 cents on the dollar – with the expectation they’ll get paid back a lot more in the end. Maybe not 100 cents on the dollar, but enough to pocket a nice profit.
- In Revlon’s case, some of its bonds – which, again, are supposed to get paid back in full before any money goes to equity holders – are trading at just 5 cents on the dollar, according to BondTicker.
- Translation: The savviest bankruptcy investors on Wall Street – who, by the way, are salivating for investment opportunities after two years of artificial Fed support propping up zombie companies – don’t think Revlon’s bonds are going to eek much more than pennies on the dollar out of a bankruptcy plan.
The bottom line: Of course, Wall Street’s savviest could be wrong. They were wrong in Hertz, after all.