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Ann Taylor parent considers sale of Lane Bryant, Catherines

Eliza Ronalds-Hannon, Kiel Porter and Lauren Coleman-Lochner

Struggling Ascena Retail Group Inc. is considering the sale of two more of its chains amid mounting losses and signs that creditors are losing confidence in the company’s prospects.

Ascena has held discussions about divesting Catherines and Lane Bryant, which specialize in plus-size women’s apparel, according to people with knowledge of the matter. They asked not to be identified because the process isn’t public.

Creditors concerned by Ascena’s deteriorating results have hired advisers to address flagging sales and approaching debt maturities, according to other people. A lender group tapped advisory firm Greenhill & Co. to help evaluate potential options, people familiar with the matter said.

Ascena Retail Group Inc. is considering the sale of its retail chains Lane Bryant, the Lathrup Village store is shown, and Catherines amid mounting losses and signs that creditors are losing confidence in the company's prospects.

“It is Ascena Retail Group’s policy not to comment on speculation or rumor,” a spokesman for the Mahwah, New Jersey-based company, said in an email. “The company regularly engages with its lenders.”

A sale would mean a significant cut in Ascena’s empire, which now totals about 3,500 stores, and would reverse an acquisition spree that culminated with the 2015 purchase of Ann Taylor and its Loft chain. Lane Bryant operated 731 stores at the end of its third fiscal quarter, and Catherines had 332.

U.S. retailers have closed thousands of outlets as consumers do more shopping online and less at brick-and-mortar outlets. Ascena is already in the process of shuttering its Dressbarn chain after failing to find a buyer. That unit operated 661 stores as of May 4. In March, the company said it was selling a majority stake in its Maurices chain to OpCapita for $300 million.

Ascena posted losses totaling about $300 million in the first three quarters of its fiscal year, and it hasn’t turned a full-year profit since fiscal 2014. It owes creditors about $1.35 billion. Debtwire earlier reported on the hiring of Greenhill.

S&P Global Ratings downgraded Ascena’s credit rating in June to CCC+ from B-, citing the potentially unsustainable debt load.

Investor concern is reflected in Ascena’s first-lien secured loans, which are quoted at less than 60 cents on the dollar. The shares, which sold for more than $20 in 2013, now fetch about 30 cents.

The company is current on its obligations, is in full compliance with its term loan and revolver, and it intends to remain that way, Ascena’s representative said. There’s also substantial cash on hand, he said.

Ascena also operates the Justice teen clothing chain, which it acquired in 2009. That unit operated 831 stores as of May 4.