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The Amazon Effect: Retail Bankruptcies Surge 110% In First Half Of The Year

As Amazon flirts with a $500 billion market cap, letting Jeff Bezos try on the title of world's richest man on for size if only for a few hours, for Amazon's competitors it's "everything must go" day everyday, as the bad news in the retail sector continue to pile up with the latest Fitch report that the default rate for distressed retailers spiked again in July.

According to the rating agency, the trailing 12-month high-yield default rate among U.S. retailers rose to 2.9% in mid-July from 1.8% at the end of June, after J. Crew completed a $566 million distressed-debt exchange. Meanwhile, with the shale sector flooded with Wall Street's easy money, the overall high-yield default rate tumbled to 1.9% in the same period from 2.2% at the end of June as $4.7 billion of defaulted debt - mostly in the energy sector - rolled out of the default universe.

In a note, Fitch levfin sr. director Eric Rosenthal, said that “even with energy prices languishing in the mid $40s, a likely iHeart bankruptcy and retail remaining the sector of concern, the broader default environment remains benign."

He's right: after the energy sector dominated bankruptcies in the first half of 2016, accounting for 21% of Chapter 11 cases, in H1 2017 the worst two sectors for bankruptcies are financials and consumer discretionary.

And if recent trends are an indication, the latter will only get worse as Fitch expects Claire’s, Sears Holdings and Nine West all to default by the end of the year, pushing the default rate to 9%. "The timing on Sears and Claire’s is more uncertain, and our retail forecast would end the year at 5% absent these filings," Rosenthal wrote.

Putting the retail sector woes in context, Reorg First Day has calculated that retail bankruptcies soared 110% in the first half from the year-earlier period, accounting for $6 billion in debt.

The list includes name brands such as Gymboree, Payless, rue 21 and the Limited, all of which cited the Amazon affect as a contributor to their downfall.

“Many retailers have echoed the familiar cries of those that filed before them—the proliferation of online shopping, rapidly deteriorating brick-and-mortar retail, the rise of fast fashion, hefty lease obligations and shifting consumer preferences,” Reorg First Day said in a midyear review.

While it is far from empirically, and certainly scientifically established, every incremental retail bankruptcy should add approximately $5-10 billion to AMZN's market cap, further cementing Jeff Bezos as the world's richest monopolist man.