Hostess asks permission to pay over a million in bonuses to 19 execs
Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Hostess Brands Inc., the bankrupt baker of Twinkies and Wonder bread, is seeking permission to pay bonuses to key managers while closing operations that will leave most of its 18,500 workers unemployed as it begins a liquidation that may attract bids from private-equity firms and rivals.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain is to consider Hostess's request to close its distribution centers and 36 bakeries at a hearing today in White Plains, New York. Hostess said Nov. 16 that it would shut down, claiming that a weeklong strike by its bakers' union forced liquidation. The union blamed management's concession demands, while some employees blamed both sides.
The U.S. trustee, a Justice Department official responsible for protecting creditors, today asked Drain to take control of the liquidation away from the company. U.S. Trustee Tracy Hope Davis asked the judge to convert the case to a Chapter 7 from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, based partly on the company's intent to pay bonuses, and appoint a trustee to supervise the wind-down.
Hostess officials "have not demonstrated that the insider bonuses are permissible," Davis wrote in a court filing.
In seeking court permission for its demise, Hostess said it wants to pay as much as $1.75 million in incentive bonuses to 19 senior managers during the liquidation. Hostess is asking the judge to approve its plan -- which would result in the firing of thousands of employees -- to shut down 36 bakeries, 242 depots, 216 retail stores, and 311 hybrid depot-store facilities, according to court filings. There are 58 other leased or owned sites used for storage, warehousing of products or parking.
The process requires "intensive" planning, staffing and funding, the company said. A fire-sale liquidation would damage equipment and result in improper disposal of waste materials.
It's "not a simple matter of turning off the lights and shutting the doors," Hostess said in court papers.
The baker estimated that shutting the plants will cost $17.6 million in the next three months. The plants have about $29 million worth of excess product ingredients, Hostess said.
About $6.9 million will be spent to close depots, while $8.8 million will be used to idle retail stores and $8.1 million will go to shutting corporate offices, according to a court filing. Perishable baked goods at retail stores will be sold at going-out-of-business sales, donated to charity or destroyed, Hostess said.
Potential bidder C. Dean Metropoulos & Co., owner of Pabst Brewing Co., said it may seek to purchase Hostess's "iconic brands," which include Dolly Madison, Drake's, Merita and Butternut. Flowers Foods Inc., maker of Nature's Own bread and Tastykake snacks, also may pursue some of its rival's assets, wrote William Chappell, an analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, in a note to investors last week.
Flowers is "one of the most eligible acquirers" of Hostess assets and brands, Amit Sharma, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets Corp. in New York, said in a separate note, citing Flowers' management, acquisitions and "relatively small" overlap with Hostess's major markets and products. Keith Hancock, a spokesman for Thomasville, Georgia-based Flowers, didn't say whether it would bid.