By Lauren Hirsch and Jessica DiNapoli
(Reuters) - U.S. high-end department store chain Neiman Marcus has hired investment bank Lazard Ltd <LAZ.N> to explore ways to bolster its balance sheet as it seeks relief from $4.9 billion in debt, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.
Neiman Marcus Group LLC [NMRCUS.UL] is in no immediate risk of bankruptcy, the sources said. However, the move makes it the highest-profile U.S. retailer to turn to a debt restructuring adviser so far this year, as consumers increasingly embrace the internet for shopping.
The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Neiman Marcus did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Lazard declined to comment. One of Neiman Marcus' current owners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), declined to comment.
Neiman Marcus operates 42 Neiman Marcus Stores across the United States and two Bergdorf Goodman stores in Manhattan. The company also operates 27 Last Call clearance centers, according to its website.
In addition to grappling with headwinds affecting other U.S. retailers, a plunge in energy prices has further hit Neiman Marcus, because many of its affluent shoppers in Texas have curbed their spending.
The stronger U.S. dollar has also been negative for Neiman Marcus, curbing spending at its Bergdorf Goodman department stores that are popular with New York tourists.
Much of Neiman Marcus' debt load stems from its $6 billion leveraged buyout in 2013, when its current owners, Ares Management LP <ARES.N> and CPPIB, acquired it from other private equity firms.
Following the news of Lazard's hiring by Neiman Marcus, some Neiman Marcus unsecured bonds due in 2021 traded at 54 cents on the dollar, down about 7 percent from Thursday, according to Thomson Reuters data.
The company's approximately $3 billion term loan dipped as low as about 77 cents on the dollar, down from 81 cents earlier on Friday before the news broke, according to Thomson Reuters' LPC. The loan settled at approximately 80 cents on the dollar, LPC reported.
Earlier this year, the department store withdrew its initial public offering (IPO), two years after it had announced its plans to U.S. regulators. At the time, the department store did not explain why it withdrew its IPO registration.
Despite its challenges, Neiman Marcus has been renovating existing stores and still plans on opening new stores, including a flagship location at New York City's Hudson Yards development.
(Reporting by Lauren Hirsch in New York and Jessica DiNapoli in Las Vegas; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker)