America is in the midst of a “retail apocalypse”: 6,800 chain stores are closing this year. It’s true that online retailers and winner-take-alls like Walmart have delivered the coup de grace that finished off these stores, but the conditions that made them weak enough to kill are driven by Wall Street, not Walmart.
The common factor shared by the disparate struggling and bankrupt retailers – Toys R Us, Claire’s, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Sears, Penney’s, Circuit City, Sports Authority, Payless, Radio Shack, etc – is that they are saddled with crushing, inescapable debt that they took on when they were acquired by hedge funds that loaded the debt on as a way of stripmining the companies; also, they increasingly rely on predatory store-cards that can be used as cover for more financialization, debt-loading, and extraction by investors who profit even (especially) when their investments go bust.
Indeed, many of these companies are profitable, and some even experienced sales growth, even as they are circling the drain, because any dollar that comes in goes straight to debt service.
What’s more, the structure of this debt is such that the payments these companies “owe” are about to balloon, guaranteeing the end of the line for them.
Amazon and Walmart may push these companies over the brink, but America’s financial engineers brought them to that brink.
Hedge funds and the vulture capitalists who run them are destroying America.