The chief business correspondent for US News, Rick Newman, creates a list of companies that look unlikely to make it past 2009. Here are the four franchisors on that list heading to the brink.
Krispy Kreme: about 4,000 employees; stock down 50%. The donuts might be good, but Krispy Kreme overestimated Americans’ appetite – and that’s saying something. This chain overexpanded during the donut heyday of the 1990s — taking on a lot of debt — and now requires high volumes to meet expenses and interest payments. The company has cut costs and closed underperforming stores, but still hasn’t earned an operating profit in three years. And now that consumers are cutting back on everything, such improvements may fail to offset top-line declines, leading Krispy Kreme to seek some kind of relief from lenders over the next year.
Chrysler: privately owned; about 55,000 employees. It’s never a good sign when management insists the company is not going out of business, which is what CEO Bob Nardelli has been doing lately. Of the three Detroit automakers, Chrysler is the most endangered, with a product portfolio that’s overreliant on gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs and almost totally devoid of compelling small cars. A recent deal with Fiat seems dubious, since the Italian automaker doesn’t have to pony up any money, and Chrysler desperately needs cash. The company is quickly burning through $4 billion in government bailout money, and with car sales down 40 percent from recent peaks, Chrysler may be the weakling that can’t cut it in tough times.
Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group: about 7,000 employees; stock down 95%. This car-rental company is a small player compared to Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis Budget. It’s also more reliant on leisure travelers, and therefore more susceptible to a downturn as consumers cut spending. Dollar Thrifty is also closely tied to Chrysler, which supplies 80 percent of its fleet. Moody’s predicts that if Chrysler declares Chapter 11, Dollar Thrifty would suffer deeply as well.
Blockbuster: about 60,000 employees; stock down 57%. The video-rental chain has burned cash while trying to figure out how to maximize fees without alienating customers. Its operating income has started to improve just as consumers are cutting back, even on movies. Video stores in general are under pressure as they compete with cable and Internet operators offering the same titles. A key test of Blockbuster’s viability will come when two credit lines expire in August. One possible outcome, according to Valueline, is that investors take the company private and then go public again when market conditions are better.