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Steinhoff International might sell Mattress Firm or close stores as it offloads assets amid allegations of accounting fraud, analysts say, though such a move isn’t immediately likely.



The South African retail conglomerate, which last year acquired the Houston-based mattress chain for $3.8 billion, is embroiled in an investigation to determine whether it overstated or manipulated reports of its financial performance. The company is assessing the “validity and recoverability” of more than $7 billion in assets with the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Officials in South Africa and Germany, where its stock is traded, are investigating independently.

The company last week announced plans to generate cash and temper lenders’ concerns by selling at least $1.2 billion in “non-core” assets. Its stock market value tanked more than 80 percent after the resignation of its CEO and a warning that it might have to revise past financial statements.

Steinhoff said Monday that it cannot comment until it has more information.

Wedbush analyst Seth Basham wrote in a note to investors that Mattress Firm, which has for months seen same-store sales decline, will likely continue to struggle as Steinhoff conducts its investigation and looks to sell its assets.

“A ‘fire sale’ of Mattress Firm itself is not out of the question, but unlikely at this time,” he wrote.

Mattress Firm CEO Ken Murphy declined to comment on the speculation.

“We remain steadfast and committed to what we do best,” he said in a statement.

Steinhoff announced it has hired Moelis & Company to help negotiate with the company’s lenders and AlixPartners to advise the company on cash management and operational issues.

The company, which has borrowed heavily to acquire a slew of retailers in recent years, postponed a meeting with its lenders until later this month, when it expects to have an update on its financial situation. Moody’s Investors Service has revoked its investment-grade rating on the company’s debt.

The company’s acqusition of Mattress Firm, the largest mattress retailer in the U.S., was its priciest acquisition to date. The $3.8 billion purchase price included more than $1 billion in debt.

Basham added in an interview that if Steinhoff begins to sell off its core assets, it might first cut ties with Mattress Firm before getting rid of higher-performing retailers in South Africa and Europe, where the company is more firmly established.

“Clearly, their creditors are coming after them pretty hard,” he said.

Euromonitor analyst Erika Sirimanne wrote in an analysis that shareholders and lenders might further press Steinhoff to cut losses if investigators uncover financial wrongdoing.

“If revenue figures are found to be severely enhanced, store closures for Steinhoff brands might be a medium-term possibility,” she wrote.

In the meantime, Steinhoff’s competitors in the U.S. mattress market could capitalize on the turmoil. Basham anticipates that mattress manufacturer Tempur Sealy will gain market share if Mattress Firm’s performance deteriorates.

“I think it puts Tempur Sealy in a little better position,” Basham said. “At the very least, Mattress Firm is going to be a little less financially stable.”

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