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CEO of Sears has come up with last-minute plan to save it from bankruptcy

September 24, 2018 at 12:54 PM

Sears, founded 125 years ago as a mail-order business, was for decades one of the nation’s premier retailers. But in recent years, it has slumped. (Tannen Maury/Bloomberg News)

Sears could face bankruptcy if it doesn’t meet its next debt payment, due in the coming weeks. Now, the retailer’s chief executive has come up with a last-minute plan to save it, after already shuttering thousands of stores and selling off some of its key brands.

Eddie Lampert, who owns the hedge-fund ESL Investments and is also the retailer’s largest shareholder and creditor, has asked creditors to refinance $1.1 billion in debt before a $134 million debt payment is due Oct. 15, according to a Sunday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He also called for the company to sell off $3.25 billion worth of real estate and assets, including Sears Home Services and the company’s flagship Kenmore brand, which Lampert offered to buy last month for $400 million.

In the filing, Lampert’s hedge fund said it “must act immediately to have sufficient runway to continue its transformation” if Sears is to become profitable again. The company, which includes 820 Sears and Kmart stores, has about $5.6 billion in outstanding debt.

Related: Kmart, Sears face ‘substantial doubt’ about finances as losses grow

“Eddie Lampert is seeking permission from himself to keep Sears on life-support while he continues to drain every last remaining drop of blood from its corpse,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School and the former chief executive of Sears Canada. “The operation is a failure, and there is no plan to turn that around."

Sears said its board, which is chaired by Lampert, had received the proposal and directed its advisers “to work closely with ESL.” Analysts said the plan is likely to pass, as Lampert is Sears’s largest shareholder.

Lampert’s latest attempts may provide a short-term life line, but analysts said that it is not a sustainable plan for a company that has failed to reinvent itself in an era of online shopping. Sears, which hasn’t turned a profit since 2010, last year posted a loss of $383 million. Sales dropped 25 percent to $16.7 billion.

Sears, founded 125 years ago as a mail-order business, was for decades one of the nation’s premier retailers. But in recent years, it has slumped, even as its competitors report quarter after quarter of growth.

Related: Everything must go: After more closings, there will be 820 Sears and Kmart stores, down from 2,000

“Without revenue growth, Sears will remain a company at risk,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, wrote in a note to clients. “As usual, Sears is focusing on financial maneuvers and missing the wider point that sales remain on a downward trajectory."

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Abha Bhattarai is the national retail reporter for The Washington Post. She has previously written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg Times.

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