If 25% Of American Retailers Go Bankrupt, Which Companies Make The List?

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24/7 Wall St. has already provided a list of retailers who may well not make it through 2009. According to The Wall Street Journal, "AlixPartners LLP, a Michigan-based turnaround consulting firm, estimates that 25.8% of 182 large retailers it tracks are at significant risk of filing for bankruptcy or facing financial distress in 2009 or 2010."

So, which chains are at risk as the year draws to a close, especially now that holiday numbers are even worse than expected?

The "easy" list that many analysts come up with includes Bon-Ton (BONT), Talbots (TLB), and Saks (SKS). These chains were mentioned in both the 24/7 Wall St. and Wall Street Journal articles.

One of the most pressing issues for the industry is whether a very large retail operation will go into Chapter 11 or be sold, putting tens of thousands of people out of work with one stroke. Six months ago, that seemed very unlikely. With 2008 being the worst holiday sales period in decades and 2009 shaping up to be even worse, the number of jobs at risk has become significantly more considerable.

One weak operation which could end up being sold is Gap (GPS). The company has 150,000 workers. The firm’s shares were nearly $22 a year ago. They now trade under $13. Gap’s chains, Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, have posted double-digit same-store sales declines for many of the months during 2008. Friedman Billings Ramsey recently said that its expects sales to get worse in 2009. If that is true, Gap may not make it through the year as an independent company.

The other large retail operator that will almost certainly suffer double-digit same-store declines in 2009 is Sears (SHLD). It has already posted frightening numbers for most of 2008. A really hard holiday season means that the company will either have to close hundreds of stores or perhaps eliminate one of its two huge brands–K-Mart or Sears. Over the last year, shares of Sears have dropped from a 52-week high of $114 to $37. Moody’s recently warned it may cut Moody’s Sears’s corporate credit rating from "Ba1," one step below investment grade, according to Reuters. Sears is unlikely to go out of business but a lot of its 337,000 employees could be out of work next year.

In 2009, retail may shed more jobs that any other segment of economy.

Douglas A. McIntyre