Home Video Archives

Contents


Nordstrom Vs. Sears: An Open-And-Shut Case For Department Stores
April 12, 2018

Sears closing its last store in Chicago
April 12, 2018

Sears real estate veteran joins A&G
April 9, 2018

Hardware retailer, discounter tops in retail customer experience rankings
April 9, 2018

Delta and Sears suffer data breach, credit card information compromised
April 6, 2018

Sears Holdings Becomes The First Company To Win ENERGY STAR® Partner Of The Year Awards For Retailer, Energy Management And Brand Owner Categories
April 2, 2018

Walmart reportedly in early-stage acquisition talks to acquire health insurer giant
March 30, 2018

J.C. Penney Company, Inc.'s Home Sales Are Exploding
March 28, 2018

Misunderstood Sears Hometown, Confused For The Near-Death Sears Holdings, Offers Massive Upside Potential
March 27, 2018

Lowe's begins search for CEO
March 26, 2018

"They Could Have Made a Different Decision": Inside the Strange Odyssey of Hedge-Fund King Eddie Lampert
March 25, 2018

Sears slashed more than 50,000 jobs last year
March 23, 2018

Sears to Contribute $407 Million to Pension Plans
March 21, 2018

Nordstrom not going private
March 21, 2018

Sears Holdings Is Running Out of Time
March 19, 2018

Stores Tinker With Strategy
March 19, 2018

These Dying Retail Stores Will Go Bankrupt in 2018
March 17, 2018

Sears Is Dead Meat Walking, After Horrid Holiday Quarter
March 15, 2018

Sears Reports Another Dismal Quarter
March 15, 2018

Walmart and Sears Get Lowest Customer Satisfaction Ratings
March 12, 2018

Scared Money Never Wins
March 12, 2018

Target CEO: 'Strategy Is Working'
March 7, 2018

Target's sales shine in Q4; wage hikes take toll on profit
March 6, 2018

Survey: State of retail 'very healthy'
March 6, 2018

Sears Finally Reached Profitability
March 3, 2018

Retailers' Stocks Begin to Turn Higher
March 3, 2018

Report: Retail defaults could surpass those in 2017
March 2, 2018

Penney Q4 sales miss; cuts 360 jobs, shakes up digital management
March 2, 2018

Retailers Crank Up for Results
February 27, 2018

Nordstrom reportedly finalizing offer to go private
February 23, 2018

Top 10 Retail Predictions for 2018
February 22, 2018

Will Sears Holdings Ever Turn a Profit?
February 19, 2018

Sears takes hit as value of name drops
February 16, 2018

Sears' sales fall, but company expects to post a profit
February 15, 2018

Retail sales take dip in January
February 14, 2018

Sears pensioners try to recoup missing money by going after billions paid to shareholders
February 13, 2018

The Sharks Are Already Circling a Wounded Sears
February 13, 2018

Sears to add new twist to its loyalty program
February 12, 2018

Sears: Here's how things got so bad
February 12, 2018

Sears Canada Creditors Seek Trustee in Court
February 12, 2018

Why Did Sears Holdings Corporation Shares Drop by 28% in January?
February 8, 2018

Former Sears Holdings exec joins BJ's digital team in new role
February 7, 2018

Edward Lampert: Should He Be Defined by Sears?
February 5, 2018

A Big Investor Is Giving Up on Sears
February 2, 2018

Why Sears Holdings Corp Stock Fell Feb. 1
February 1, 2018

Sears lays off 220 employees, mostly at Hoffman Estates headquarters
January 31, 2018

Is There Any Value Left in Sears Holdings' Assets?
January 31, 2018

Sears: Dead Cat Bounce?
January 29, 2018

Passing of a retail giant
January 29, 2018

Sears Stock Falls Another 9% and Is Down a Whopping 31% in Just Days
January 27, 2018

Sears Holdings' Stealth Dilution
January 26, 2018

Top 4 Reasons Sears Could File Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2018
January 25, 2018

Another Body Blow: Sears Holdings to Shutter Over 100 Stores
January 24, 2018

Sears Holdings' Store Closures: No Problem for Seritage Growth Properties
January 19, 2018

Why Did Sears Holdings Corp. Shares Lose 61% in 2017?
January 15, 2018

How Sears created modern retail in Illinois
January 14, 2018

Sears' latest $100 million loan again comes from CEO's firm
January 12, 2018

Sears Will Be Lucky To Make It Through 2018
January 11, 2018

This Could Be the Best News Sears Holdings Has Heard in a While
January 10, 2018

Sears Holdings Sees Narrower Net Loss In Q4; Aims Profitable FY18
January 10, 2018

Sears Holdings Corp Announces Strategy to Try to Stay Afloat
January 10, 2018

Sears looks to strengthen finances, or 'consider all other options'
January 10, 2018

Bets Against Malls Come Up Short
January 10, 2018

Retailers Get Bump From Holiday Sales
January 9, 2018

Analysis: Holiday performance puts Kohl's firmly in the winner's circle
January 8, 2018

Why some malls may be in deeper trouble than you think
January 8, 2018

Sears to Shut 100 Stores in Coming Months
January 5, 2018

Sears Stopped Buying National TV Ads in Critical Holiday Season
January 2, 2018


 

Breaking News

2018

Nordstrom Vs. Sears: An Open-And-Shut Case For Department Stores
By Jon Bird
Forbes
April 12, 2018

Great physical retail awakens all the senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Conversely, bad retail evokes just one sense. It smells, like death.

I am writing this post perched in my office on the floor above the new Nordstrom Men's Store on 57th and Broadway in New York City. I was in the store this morning when the doors opened, and you could sense the excitement and buzz in the space.

There was something for all the senses - donuts on arrival, fresh coffee (Nordstrom signature blend), two bars (a little early for a drink, but I'll be back), vibrant visual merchandising, art on the walls, a DJ pumping out tunes, plush carpet underfoot. It felt good.

There was something for every kind of shopper, too. The brands on offer stretch "from Vans to Valentino," as Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Stores, said.

High-tech customers can take advantage of the Virtual Reality suit station or mobile checkout. Low-tech shoppers can get their shoes shined, grab a coffee or wander the store with a glass of wine bought at the bar. (Perhaps alcohol will be the savior of physical retail?)

Sneakerheads lined up at one counter to register for a chance to purchase a new pair of Nikes to be released this weekend, while more refined types salivated over the Eton shirts.

It's a store built for the physical-meets-digital age. You can click online and collect in store; order from the mobile app at 2 a.m. and cruise past to pick up a tie at the curbside; return an item just by scanning the receipt and dropping it in a box.

Nordstrom is not just opening stores (a rarity in itself); it is opening interesting stores. (As the old saying goes, you can't bore people into buying.) In Los Angeles last year, Nordstrom launched a neighborhood concept called "Nordstrom Local" that is all about services, not product. You can return and pick up items, have clothes tailored or consult a personal stylist, but there is no inventory for sale.

Sears, by comparison, is closing stores, although at least it is doing so in a novel way - selling some of its real estate online. It's hard to believe that Sears was once the largest retailer in the world and owned and occupied the world's tallest skyscraper. It was the Amazon of its age and incredibly innovative. Last year, however, the company admitted there was "substantial doubt" that it would survive.

Walk into a Sears, and you can instantly tell why the giant tumbled to earth. The stores that I have shopped are quiet. The housekeeping is poor. Sales associates are hard to find. Most of all, the product is not great. You just want to leave, which is what shoppers have been doing in droves.

I spoke with Jamie Nordstrom at the store opening, and one quote really stuck in my mind. When asked about macroeconomic trends, Nordstrom said, "We're not economists; we're retailers." Besides being president of the company, Jamie is the great-grandson of the founder, and retail runs in his veins. Eddie Lampert, the chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings, is not a retailer - he's a money man, a businessman and investor.

Even in this digital retail age, merchants still make the magic. As Jamie also said, "there is lots of whiz-bang technology, but ultimately it's about the product." And that's an open-and-shut case.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears closing its last store in Chicago
By Heather Cherone
Chicago Sun-Times
April 12, 2018

Audra Nelson and her daughter Annika, 12, were in a hurry Thursday afternoon, and - as usual - headed to the Sears in the Six Corners Shopping District to pick up some new clothes.

"Sears is right around the corner, it has always been our go-to place when we are in a rush," Nelson said.

But soon, Nelson will have to head elsewhere to do her last-minute shopping.

Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings told employees on Thursday that the store at Six Corners will close in July. The auto center will close in May.

It is the last Sears in Chicago - the city where the once-dominant retailer long had its headquarters and where it set up its revolutionary mail-order catalog business.

"I'm sad," Nelson said. "There are stores I like better, but Sears has been an institution."

The massive three-story building at 4730 W. Irving Park Road was among 265 properties sold to Seritage Growth Properties in 2015 in a sale-leaseback deal. Sears said Thursday that Seritage is exercising its right to reclaim the space.

"We have proudly served our members and customers on Chicago's Northwest Side for the last eight decades," Sears said in a statement.

"Although we are disappointed by this last store closure in Chicago, by no means does this change our commitment to our customers and presence to Chicago's residents."

One employee, who declined to give her name for fear of losing her job, said the news was a "kick in the pants."

Sears' Six Corners employees will be offered severance pay as well as a chance to apply for positions at other Sears or Kmart locations, company officials said.

Art Avila, 61, who shops at Sears once or twice a week, will also be sad to see the store close.

"There are always so many items on clearance," Avila said. "I live two blocks away, and it is good enough for me. I don't want to see it close."

When Sears opened its store at Six Corners on Oct. 20, 1938, more than 99,500 customers poured into its aisles - it was the first Sears to be air conditioned, according to news reports.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said he had mixed emotions about Sears' announcement.

"It has been an iconic part of Six Corners," Arena said. "But there has been a long holding of breath as the company struggled. At least there is now certainty about this site."

His office has yet to receive a proposal for the property's future from Seritage.

"I'll be optimistic that we will get to a place that meets the standards we have established for Six Corners."

In August, the Sears store on Lawrence Avenue in Lincoln Square closed, and plans promptly surfaced to gut the building and transform it into 59 apartments, 91 parking spaces and 30,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) backed the plan, settling the question of its future quickly.

Arena has endorsed a similar concept, which preserves the main building while redeveloping the parking lot and surrounding buildings into retail space.

But Arena and nearby business owners had hoped that as one of the few remaining department stores on the Northwest Side - where shoppers can pick up everything from baby goods to underwear and a washer and dryer - the Sears would hold on for awhile longer.

"Sears has been a mainstay of the Six Corners community for decades and will certainly be missed," Six Corners Association executive director Kelli Wefenstette said.

Efforts to restore a measure of Six Corners' former glory as the premier shopping district outside the Loop have been stymied by the uncertain fate of several high-profile properties in limbo, including the soon-to-be-former Sears.

The main building should be preserved and transformed for the next 80 years, Wefenstette said.

Nelson said she was curious about what will replace Sears.

"Whatever it is, I hope it rejuvenates the area," Nelson said. "I suppose things have to change."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears real estate veteran joins A&G
By Al Urbanski
Chain Store Age
April 9, 2018

Jim Terrell, who in 36 years at Sears Holdings presided over divestiture, repurposing, and subleasing of dozens of properties, has joined A&G Realty Partners as managing director.

Terrell will be based in the Chicago office of A&G, one of the leading asset disposition firms handling national retail chains. He is charged with directing the exit process for leased and fee-owned properties, including warehouse and corporate office restructuring, consolidation and disposition.

"Jim is a prolific deal-maker with a very diverse real estate background," said Andy Graiser, who serves as co-president of A&G with Emilio Amendola.

Exiting Sears as VP and chief operating officer in 2015, Terrell participated in or directed several complex transactions, including the merger creating Sears Holdings Corporation, the spin-off of the Seritage Growth Property REIT. Terrell was part of the M&A team that led to Sears' acquisitions of Land's End and other companies.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Hardware retailer, discounter tops in retail customer experience rankings
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
April 9, 2018

Ace Hardware and Dollar Tree tied for the top spot in the retail industry, with an 82% score, in the 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings, an annual customer experience benchmark of companies based on a survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers. Along with landing the top spot in the retail industry, Ace Hardware and Dollar Tree placed 7th overall out of 318 companies across 20 industries. (Wegmans, with an 86% score, was No. 1 in the supermarket industry and the overall rankings.)

Overall, the retail industry averaged a 74% rating in the 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings and came in third place out of 20 industries.

"Ace Hardware and Family Dollar lead a strong group of retailers. In fact, more than three-quarters of retailers earned good or excellent scores," said Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group.

The ratings of all retailers in the 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings are as follows:

• Ace Hardware: 82%
• Dollar Tree: 82%
• Family Dollar: 81%
• BJ's Wholesale Club: 80%
• Amazon.com: 79%
• Menards: 79%
• PetSmart: 79%
• True Value: 78%
• Walgreens: 78%
• Dollar General: 78%
• Staples: 77%
• Sam's Club: 77%
• Home Depot: 77%
• QVC: 76%
• eBay: 76%
• O'Reilly Auto Parts: 76%
• Bed Bath & Beyond: 76%
• Bath & Body Works: 76%
• Advance Auto Parts: 76%
• Barnes & Noble: 76%
• Costco: 75%
• Rite Aid: 75%
• Kohl's: 75%
• JCPenney: 75%
• T.J. Maxx: 75%
• Dick's Sporting Goods: 74%
• Lowe's: 74%
• Target: 73%
• Office Depot: 73%
• 7-Eleven: 73%
• Etsy: 72%
• AutoZone: 72%
• Ross: 72%
• Old Navy: 72%
• CVS: 71%
• Michael's: 71%
• Nordstrom: 71%
• Toys 'R' Us: 71%
• Gap: 69%
• Marshalls: 69%
• GameStop: 69%
• Wal-Mart: 69%
• Best Buy: 68%
• Macy's: 67%
• Apple Retail Store: 67%
• Kmart: 67%
• Sears: 66%
• Foot Locker: 65%
• Office Max: 65%


The 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings evaluates 318 companies across 20 industries: airlines, auto dealers, banks, computer & tablet makers, credit card issuers, fast food chains, health plans, hotels & rooms, insurance carriers, investment firms, parcel delivery services, rental cars & transport, retailers, software firms, streaming media, supermarket chains, TV & appliance makers, TV/Internet service providers, utilities, and wireless carriers.

Temkin Group then averaged these three scores to produce each company's Temkin Experience Rating.

In these ratings, a score of 70% or above is considered "good," and a score of 80% or above is considered "excellent," while a score below 60% is considered "poor."

The 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings can be accessed at TemkinRatings.com.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Delta and Sears suffer data breach, credit card information compromised
By Zeljka Zorz
HelpNewtSecurity
April 6, 2018

US-based Delta Air Lines and Sears Holdings, the owners of Sears and Kmart, have announced that the breach suffered by chatbot company [24]7.ai has resulted in the compromise of credit card information of its customers.

According to a statement by [24]7.ai, which provides online support services to the two companies, the incident began on September 26 and was discovered and contained on October 12, 2017.

Sears Holdings says that the incident involved unauthorized access to less than 100,000 of their customers' credit card information, but that customers using a Sears-branded credit card were not impacted.

"As soon as [24]7.ai informed us in mid-March 2018, we immediately notified the credit card companies to prevent potential fraud, and launched a thorough investigation with federal law enforcement authorities, our banking partners, and IT security firms," the company noted.

Delta said that even though only a small subset of their customers would have been exposed, they cannot say definitively whether any of their customers' information was actually accessed or subsequently compromised. Still, they made sure to point out that "no other customer personal information, such as passport, government ID, security or SkyMiles information was impacted."

"On Thursday Delta launched delta.com/response, a dedicated website, which we will update regularly to address customer questions and concerns. We will also directly contact customers who may have been impacted by the [24]7.ai cyber incident. In the event any of our customers' payment cards were used fraudulently as a result of the [24]7.ai cyber incident, we will ensure our customers are not responsible for that activity," the company added.

Both companies said that they were informed of the incident in March 2018. It is unknown why [24]7.ai did not notify them of the incident sooner.

"The Sears and Delta breaches precisely show how interconnected companies digital ecosystems are and why attacks on third parties are so prevalent. This stands out because it is two for the price of one, Fred Kneip, CEO, CyberGRX, commented.

"As with so many similar attacks before, the breaches taking place at Sears and Delta were introduced by a vulnerability from a third party, in this case a small customer service shop. Just like no one knows the name of the HVAC vendor that led to the Target breach in 2013, no one will remember the name of this contractor when all is said and done. Instead, customers will remember that Sears and Delta put their data at risk. When third parties demonstrate weak security controls, the blame and the headlines will always gravitate toward the companies with name recognition. A real-time assessment of third-party cyber risk has to be a part of the vetting process when companies engage with any third party, including vendors, suppliers and outsourcers."

Laurie Mercer, Solutions Engineer at HackerOne, says that this incident raises many questions about how we can secure data that we enter into third party systems and manage the security of vendors.

"Today consumers are asking more and more questions about where our data resides, and how our data is being protected. These concerns are reflected in legislation like the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU. This breach highlights the importance of securing the vendor ecosystem as well as our own in-house systems," he noted.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Holdings Becomes The First Company To Win ENERGY STAR® Partner Of The Year Awards For Retailer, Energy Management And Brand Owner Categories
By Chicago Business Journal
April 2, 2018

Sears Holdings Corporation has been named a 2018 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year - Sustained Excellence Award winner for continued leadership in protecting our environment through superior energy efficiency achievements. In addition, the Kenmore brand has been named a 2018 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year - Product Brand Owner. According to the EPA, it marks the first time a company has won all three awards: Retailer, Energy Management and Brand Owner.

Sears Holdings' and Kenmore's accomplishments will be recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2018.

Sears Holdings, an ENERGY STAR partner since 1998, will be honored for long-term commitment to energy efficiency. The company's related accomplishments in 2017 included:

Energy Savings: From February through August 2017, Sears reduced total store energy consumption by nine percent and saved 82 million kilowatt hours of power, which equates at an average rate, to almost $10 million.

Responsible Appliance Disposal: Sears processed and responsibly disposed of more than 182,000 refrigerators, freezers, AC units and dehumidifiers from January 2017 through September 2017. These efforts resulted in avoided greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 226,000 metric tons CO2 equivalent.

Product Selection and Sales of ENERGY STAR Products: From Sears' sales of ENERGY STAR products in 2017, customers were able to achieve energy savings of 298 million kWh, $70 million in utility costs, 459 million pounds of CO2 reduced, or equivalent emissions of 44,000 cars. In 2017, SHC offered 849 unique ENERGY STAR certified models across categories such as lighting, appliances, consumer electronics, doors, windows, and HVAC. In Appliances alone, SHC saw a 9.5% increase in ENERGY STAR certified products over 2016 numbers. For the fourth straight year, more than 99% of our door and window installations were completed using ENERGY STAR certified products.

Training: Sears conducted its Home Appliance business sales associate product training road show in 2017 to educate its associates on ENERGY STAR. Over 1,900 associates were trained and gained specific knowledge on ENERGY STAR certified products.

Partnership: Sears and the Kenmore brand partnered with Amazon to launch major appliances on amazon.com. The launch and marketing materials have focused heavily on ENERGY STAR certified appliances and the majority of the products are ENERGY STAR certified. This is introducing the Kenmore brand and the ENERGY STAR Program to a new demographic audience. In addition, we continue to support ENERGY STAR with participation in ENERGY STAR events. SHC successfully upgraded two homeless veteran shelters with energy-efficient appliances, lighting, consumer electronics, doors, windows and HVAC. This event with Rebuilding Together and ENERGY STAR took place in advance of the ENERGY STAR Products Partner Meeting.

"We truly value Sears Holdings' partnership with ENERGY STAR and are honored to receive the Partner of the Year Award in Sustained Excellence for the ninth consecutive year in Retail and the seventh consecutive year in Energy Management," said Edward S. Lampert, chairman and chief executive officer of Sears Holdings. "Being recognized by ENERGY STAR as a retail leader only further increases our members' trust in us to continuously provide energy-efficient solutions that meet their needs. We remain committed to continuing our work to help increase energy efficiency, to offer savings to our members, and to protect the environment through our dedicated efforts."

"The Kenmore brand has been an iconic American brand since 1913 and has been a significant supporter of ENERGY STAR since 1992," said Tom Park, president of Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands at Sears. "In 2017, Kenmore increased the percentage of total sales dollars from ENERGY STAR certified Kenmore appliances by over 7% compared to the prior year."

"The 2018 ENERGY STAR Partners of the Year have demonstrated real leadership, showing how American families and businesses can save energy, save money, and reduce air emissions," said Bill Wehrum, EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation.

The 2018 Partner of the Year - Sustained Excellence Awards are bestowed upon companies and other organizations demonstrating continued leadership in energy efficiency and commitment to the ENERGY STAR program. Winners hail from small, family-owned businesses to Fortune 500 organizations - representing energy-efficient products, services, new homes, and buildings in the commercial, industrial, and public sectors.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Walmart reportedly in early-stage acquisition talks to acquire health insurer giant
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
March 30, 2018

The nation's largest retailer is reportedly in preliminary discussions to acquire Humana, the second-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans, or private insurance plans offered through Medicare.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that Walmart was interested in buying Humana, citing "people familiar with the matter." The report said the two companies were looking at a variety of options.

In a statement to CNBC, Walmart said that it does not comment on rumors and speculation. Humana did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

A deal between the two companies would be the latest in a series of mergers and acquisitions that have rocked the health care industry in recent months. In December, CVS Health announced plans to buy Aetna. Earlier this month, Cigna said it would buy pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts. All of this comes on the heels of Amazon's announcement in January that it was teaming up with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase will form an independent company to address health care for the U.S. employees of their companies.

In commenting on the Walmart-Human reports, analyst Neil Saunders, managing director, GlobalData Retail, said becoming entangled in the complex U.S. healthcare industry posed considerable risks for Walmart. But it also held opportunity.

"As much as Walmart can grow organically and through retail acquisitions, the company is of such scale that the opportunities for future expansion in the U.S. are limited," said Saunders. "Healthcare is a huge market and a significant area of both consumer and corporate expenditure. It is also a major growth sector. Moving onto this turf would give Walmart a whole new arena in which to expand - something that would be valuable at a time when its retail margins are under pressure."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

J.C. Penney Company, Inc.'s Home Sales Are Exploding
By Adam Levine-Weinberg
Motley Fool
March 28, 2018

During the past few years, J.C. Penney has made its home department the centerpiece of its plan to reinvigorate sales growth. This strategy was designed in part to take advantage of Sears Holdings' rapid decline. Most notably, J.C. Penney re-entered the major appliance market -- a key area of strength for Sears -- in 2016.

This growth strategy had a significant positive impact on sales at J.C. Penney during 2017, and the home department is likely to continue making an outsized contribution to the company's sales growth in 2018 and beyond.

Another successful year in the home department

J.C. Penney's recently released annual report indicates that the home category was the strongest part of its business last year. While J.C. Penney's overall comparable sales inched up just 0.1% in 2017, the home department helped offset a decrease in apparel sales, particularly in the first half of the year.

The importance of the home department can be seen from changes in the company's overall merchandise mix. Home accounted for 15% of the company's sales in 2017, up from 13% a year earlier and 12% in 2015. Indeed, J.C. Penney achieved double-digit sales growth in the home category during 2017, and growth of more than 20% over the past two years combined. (Rounding in the company's annual report makes it impossible to be more precise.)

Appliances are key, but that's not all

J.C. Penney's appliance initiative was a big part of the home department's growth last year. For example, in the second quarter, appliance sales contributed nearly 300 basis points of comp sales growth, indicating a year-over-year sales increase of more than $80 million just in that quarter. In the third quarter, appliance sales more than doubled year over year.

A few key factors drove this growth. Early in the year, J.C. Penney opened about 100 additional appliance showrooms, bringing its total to roughly 600. Furthermore, it introduced an important new brand (Frigidaire) to its assortment in October. Lastly, J.C. Penney benefited from a full year of sales in appliance showrooms that opened in mid-to-late 2016.

The external environment also supported J.C. Penney's efforts to grow its appliance sales last year. Appliance and electronics retailer HHGregg closed all of its stores last spring. Meanwhile, Sears Holdings' revenue plunged 25% in fiscal 2017, with appliance sales performing only slightly better than the company average.

Yet appliance sales weren't alone in driving growth in the home department during 2017. In fact, during the fourth quarter, while appliance sales surged more than 30% year over year, comp sales rose almost 60% in mattresses and nearly 40% in furniture.

These merchandise categories are another two areas in which J.C. Penney can gain market share at Sears' expense. To capture these opportunities, J.C. Penney dramatically increased its furniture selection online during 2017, while expanding its mattress assortment in more than 300 stores.

J.C. Penney isn't done yet

Outsized growth in J.C. Penney's home department should continue in 2018 and beyond. The company plans to add new brands to its appliance assortment during the year, enabling further growth. It may also consider opening smaller appliance showrooms in stores that don't have enough space for a full appliance section.

Continued store closures at Sears will also help J.C. Penney's appliance business. It's important to note that despite all of its struggles, Sears still sold about $2.7 billion of appliances last year. That represents a huge sales opportunity if Sears ultimately liquidates in the next few years.

Additionally, J.C. Penney will benefit from a full year of the initiatives that drove strong growth in furniture and mattresses during the fourth quarter. It even added TVs to its home department last fall due to customer demand.

During 2016 and 2017, weak results in much of J.C. Penney's apparel business offset the benefit of strong growth in the home department. If apparel sales are now set to return to growth -- as management has predicted -- then 2018 could be a great year for J.C. Penney.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Misunderstood Sears Hometown, Confused For The Near-Death Sears Holdings, Offers Massive Upside Potential
By Timothy Stabosz
Seeking Alpha
March 27, 2018

Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores is a fascinating special situation, the likes of which does not come along too often. As a spin-off from a highly visible former parent, the company (SHOS) is currently in a turnaround. That turnaround is being overshadowed by Sears Holdings' longstanding march towards its tragic and inevitable doom. While same store sales declines continue (for now), gross margins are showing significant improvement.

Considering the .02x price/sales ratio, any continued improvement in gross margins, and or reductions in cost, can very quickly manifest in a significant profit on the pre-tax bottom line, which could make the stock a 10-bagger or more. (The company achieved $2.60 in EPS as recently as 2012.) Returning to such profitability is not at all outlandish, especially with Sears Holdings potentially out of the picture, and SHOS possibly having no brick and mortar nor direct web competition from a "Sears affiliate" anymore!

It really is up to Eddie Lampert. Does he intend to make SHOS the "replacement" for Sears Holdings, where he can win back his self-respect, and operate a whole "new" model nationally, of highly efficient 8500 square foot stores that carry the "best of Sears" brands, and walk away from the dead-as-a-doornail department store model?

It remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: If the stock stays this low, Lampert will likely continue to vacuum up shares in the open market, in a riveting "going private over time" saga, that puts a significant floor under the stock. In addition, while many may question Lampert's acumen as a retail operator, the fact of the matter is that he is an excellent judge of value, and I have little doubt that, as majority owner, he is passionately interested in securing and protecting the obvious asset value that is present in this company. He will not let an adverse "black swan" scenario allow the bankers to swoop in and try to take advantage of the situation. (If necessary, I am absolutely convinced Lampert will step in, and privately finance the company, if that is what is required.)

SHOS stock has been punished with the entire brick-and-mortar retail sector. It has been punished by being misunderstood as a Sears Holdings proxy. It was knocked down by tax loss selling and has yet to recover. It has been punished by short sellers (and is ripe for a massive short squeeze). And yet, the last couple of quarters, the company has experienced an adjusted EBITDA turnaround.

It is separating from the Sears I.T. systems, independently sourcing products from vendors who now refuse to do business with its former parent, and is gaining its independence, with separation expenses finally expected to wind down in the next few months. (I.T. transformation expenses, expected to total roughly $33 million in 2017, are expected to dwindle to $8 million or so in the first half 2018, and then terminate completely, providing a very nice tailwind, this year.)

SHOS insiders seem to realize something the Street does not. SHOS is an entity that has largely been "carved out" of SHLD...and it was separated for a reason. It has a sustainable business model, a model that, paradoxically, may very well be more sustainable with the impending collapse of SHLD. Does the cagey Eddie Lampert believe this too? Is that why he owns 60% of SHOS, and is quietly taking it private over time, in broad daylight, while the Street remains "blinkered"?

There are a number of scenarios which would result in the unlocking of value here, and any bonafide "expected value" calculation for all those scenarios leads one to come up with a dramatically higher valuation for SHOS. I am convinced that risks attendant to a Sears Holdings bankruptcy are greatly exaggerated, more than factored into the current SHOS stock price, and that this is a unique and special opportunity in which, when the vast majority of scenarios are "gamed out," shareholders are likely to be huge winners.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Lowe's begins search for CEO
By HBSDealer Staff
Chain Store Age
March 26, 2018

The CEO of the nation's second-largest home improvement retailer is stepping down.

Lowe's announced that Robert Niblock plans to retire as chairman, president and CEO of the retailer after a 25-year career with the company. The Lowe's board has initiated a search for Niblock's successor. Niblock will remain in his current role until a successor is found.

"After a 25-year career at Lowe's, including 13 years as chairman and CEO, I am confident that it is the right time to transition the company to its next generation of leadership," Niblock said in a statement. "Serving Lowe's alongside our over 310,000 outstanding employees has been my great privilege and the highlight of my professional career. I am extremely proud of all that we have accomplished to position Lowe's as the omnichannel project authority," the CEO said.

Niblock has served as chairman and CEO of Lowe's since January 2005. In 2011, he reassumed the title of president, after having served in that role from 2003 to 2006. Niblock became a member of the board of directors when he was named chairman and CEO-elect in 2004.

He joined Lowe's in 1993, and during his career with the company, has served as director of taxation, VP and treasurer, senior VP, and executive VP and CFO. Prior to joining Lowe's, Niblock spent nine years with Ernst & Young.

"On behalf of our entire board and team here at Lowe's, I want to thank Robert for his leadership, commitment and countless contributions to our company over the course of his distinguished 25-year Lowe's career," said Marshall Larsen, lead director of the Lowe's board.

Since 2004 under Niblock, Lowe's has seen annual sales grow from $36.5 billion to $68.6 billion in 2017. Over that same span, net income increased from $2.2 billion to $3.4 billion. In recent months, Lowe's has come under fire by some shareholders who have argued that Lowe's is lagging behind Home Depot and has not done enough to capitalize on a surge in the economy and home improvement.

In its most recent financial release, Lowe's reported that its fourth quarter sales fell nearly 2% to $15.5 billion from $15.8 billion in the year-ago period, while profits were lower than expected. Fourth quarter net earnings of $554 million were down from $663 million in the same quarter a year ago.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

"They Could Have Made a Different Decision": Inside the Strange Odyssey of Hedge-Fund King Eddie Lampert
By William D. Cohan
Vanity Fair
March 25, 2018

In 2003, many were skeptical when Lampert married Sears to Kmart. Now, with hundreds of stores closed and thousands thrown out of work, Lampert defends his strategies in his first in-depth interview in 15 years. The author also tracks down the man who kidnapped Lampert before the Kmart deal went through.

Few people on Wall Street are as polarizing as Eddie Lampert, the billionaire majority shareholder of Sears and Kmart. His friends say he is reticent, while his critics find him aloof. His pals talk about his very high standards, while some observers say he is condescending, overly critical, and disengaged.

Some people praise his determination and persistence, while others see only inexplicable stubbornness in sticking to failed ideas. "His critics will say he's not really a team guy. He is a team guy," insists Lampert's close friend David "Tiger" Williams, a well-known Wall Street trader. "The Eddie I know works incessantly because he's a 'figure-it-out guy.' "

Williams believes that Lampert is a target for criticism because he is "a very shy person" and avoids the public eye. But Mark Cohen, who was C.E.O. of Sears Canada from 2001 to 2004, and now is a professor at Columbia Business School, says that Lampert is "the wizard behind the curtain, managing the business from Florida or Connecticut or aboard his yacht" via teleconference and taking from the company all he can.

While admitting he runs the company primarily from Florida, Lampert counters that he has put a fortune of his own money into the business. Cohen responds that Lampert's money is collateralized against hard assets, of which Lampert will take control if the company defaults on the loans. (A spokesperson for Lampert says that can happen only if Lampert is the highest bidder, and the purchase is approved by the bankruptcy court, "generally speaking.")

Once a wunderkind, who at 25 established his own hedge fund, ESL, Lampert is 55 now and celebrating the silver anniversary of managing his own money and that of a few select billionaires, such as entertainment mogul David Geffen, Michael Dell, Thomas Tisch, and the Ziff publishing family.

He has had legendary successes, such as his investment in AutoZone, the auto-parts retailer, in which he made a profit of around $750 million, at least 20 times his investment, and AutoNation, the car dealership, from which he has made $1.5 billion (and in which he still owns a large stake). He has also made winners out of Honeywell, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Liz Claiborne Inc.

But today those triumphs are largely obscured by his worst mistake: the 2005 merging of Sears, the iconic retailer whose doorstop mail-order catalogue was once a fixture in nearly every American home, with the down market Kmart chain, which he had brought out of bankruptcy in 2003.

Twelve years on, this blundering into retail has made him a poster boy for what some people think is wrong with Wall Street and, in particular, hedge funds. Under his management the number of Sears and Kmart stores nationwide has shrunk to 1,207 from 5,670 at its peak, in the 2000s, and at least 200,000 Sears and Kmart employees have been thrown out of work.

The pension fund, for retired Sears employees, is underfunded by around $1.6 billion, and both Lampert and Sears are being sued for investing employees' retirement money in Sears stock, when the top brass allegedly knew it was a terrible investment. (Lampert's spokesperson responds, "ESL never encouraged anybody to invest in Sears Holdings stock. The associate stock-purchase plan began in 2006. It was perceived to be an effective employee retention and incentive tool.")

In 2013, Lampert, who was chairman of the board, had himself named C.E.O. of Sears Holdings, as the combined company is known. He's had a rough four years since then. The company has suffered some $10.4 billion in losses and a revenue decline of 47 percent, to $22 billion. Those stores that remain open are often shabby, with minimal inventory and few customers.

A year ago the company admitted, for the first time, that there was some risk of its ability to continue as "a going-concern," a technical accounting term that sent shudders through the ranks of Sears's employees, vendors, and creditors, because it is often a precursor to a bankruptcy filing.

On July 20, Lampert announced that Sears would allow its Kenmore appliances-one of the store's most profitable brands, formerly sold exclusively in Kmart and Sears outlets-to be sold on Amazon. On his Sears blog, Lampert called it a "game-changing agreement."

But critics branded it as just the latest example of Lampert's selling off the company's assets in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. "We suspect this is a move to beautify the Kenmore brand for divestiture and help alleviate some pressure, temporarily, of Sears as a going-concern," Bill Dreher, an analyst at Susquehanna International Group, wrote his clients.

The vultures are circling, waiting for Lampert to throw in the towel so they can try to make money by buying Sears's discounted debt. But Lampert continues to claim that's not going to happen if he can help it.

The spate of negative media coverage and the dire predictions of Wall Street investors might explain why Lampert, generally regarded as reclusive, agreed to sit with me for an interview, in what his spokesperson calls his first "one-on-one first-person interview in several years," which I calculate to be 15. (In May, Lampert did a short Q&A with Lauren Zumbach in the Chicago Tribune.) His desire to keep an unusually low profile may have something to do with the fact that he was kidnapped in 2003 and held for ransom by four young men over a long weekend.

Lampert's Greenwich estate fits the image of how you'd expect a billionaire hedge-fund manager to live. Assessed at nearly $26 million, it consists of six acres on a spit of land that juts into Long Island Sound. The main house is around 10,000 square feet, with a lot of stone and glass.

After I was buzzed through the security gate, a guard popped out of nowhere to usher me into a grand but sparely furnished room facing Long Island Sound. On the walls hung a few large, expensive-looking fine-art photographs. Suddenly, from a side door, Lampert emerged with two handlers from Teneo, the financial-advisory and public-relations firm, who would monitor our conversation.

Lampert looked fit, if a bit awkward, in a gray polo shirt buttoned to the top. He was shod in a pair of brand-new "pure platinum" Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit sneakers. He, his wife (Kinga, 43), and their three children spend most of their time in Florida, where the children go to school. He made the point to me that, in Florida anyway, he's not the least bit reclusive. "I'm out there like a normal person, and I really enjoy that," he says. (Perhaps it's just coincidence that Florida, unlike Connecticut and New York, has no state income tax.) He also has a home in Aspen.

Lampert rarely visits Sears Holdings headquarters, outside of Chicago-some say only once a year, for the annual board meeting. Lampert dismisses any criticism of his long-distance management style, saying he's a big believer in handing over power to his management team. "There are cultures where people work from home, and they still get things done," he says. "The ability to trust people, the ability to empower people, that's the model."

Mark Cohen, for one, isn't having it. "He's had a puppet board who have never pushed back in any way that anybody has ever seen, and why would they?" he says. “They're all handpicked Eddie acolytes, and people have asked me for over a decade, 'How does he get away with this-it's a public company and why isn't the board in action [given] the continued failure of the business?' To which I say, 'The board is meaningless . . . There's no governance here whatsoever.'"

Lampert's spokesperson responds that the board "currently has six members . . . who are deeply committed to the maximization of stockholder value. . . . [They are] deeply informed and involved."

Cohen points out that current Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin "has been a shareholder and a member of the board of directors of Sears Holdings from the day that the combined company was formed [until becoming Treasury secretary], so he spent 11 years at Eddie's side. . . . [With] all of Trump’s focus on jobs, job preservation, job creation, somebody ought to ask his secretary of the Treasury what his involvement has been for 11 years in the destruction of well over 100,000 jobs at Sears." (A spokesman for Mnuchin declined to comment.)

Lampert is no stranger to the plight of hourly workers, struggling to make ends meet, because he grew up as one. His early years were spent in Roslyn, New York, an affluent village on the North Shore of Long Island. His father was a successful attorney, his mother a stay-at-home mom, for him and his sister, Tracey, but when Lampert was 14 his father died of a heart attack. "That was the end of camp or going away to Europe like the other children," his mother told The Wall Street Journal in 1991. She went to work as a salesclerk at Saks Fifth Avenue in Garden City for the next 20 years. "Eddie was very strong . . . trying to be the man of the family," she recalled. During summer vacations he worked in a warehouse packing boxes.

"There were a lot of times," Lampert says, "when [my mother] came home, and it's like, 'I'm going to lose my job. I don't know what we're going to do. We'll have to sell the house.'"

At Yale, which Lampert attended with help from financial aid and student loans, he was the student who, at finals time, would move into the library and stay there. "He was very, very serious about doing the work," says his friend Benjamin Bram, a founder of Watermill Trading. Lampert, Bram, and Steve Mnuchin (who was in the class behind the two of them) roomed together off campus.

At Yale, Lampert made connections that would be important to his future. His membership in the elite secretive fraternity Skull and Bones opened to him a rarefied world inhabited by the likes of George W. Bush and Stephen Schwarzman, now C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group.

The holy grail among this set was Goldman Sachs, then, as now, Wall Street's most prestigious firm. The summer after his junior year Lampert got a highly coveted Goldman Sachs internship. It probably hadn't hurt his chances that Mnuchin's father, Robert, was one of the firm's senior partners, in charge of the equity division.

After graduation, Lampert ended up in the risk-arbitrage department at Goldman, reporting directly to Robert Freeman, the partner in charge of the firm's business of buying and selling stocks involved in takeover transactions. "[Eddie] just had a drive and ambition amongst a group of pretty ambitious guys that I thought was unique," Freeman says. "He was like a young bucking bronco . . . on a fast track to be successful."

In February 1987, Freeman was led off the trading floor at Goldman by a U.S. marshal and arrested outside the firm's Broad Street headquarters on charges of insider trading. "If you were at Goldman Sachs and you were a person working for Bob Freeman, you probably saw your career flashing before your eyes," says a former Goldman colleague. Eventually, Freeman pleaded guilty to one felony count of insider trading and ended up serving four months in a minimum-security prison in Pensacola, Florida. Lampert gave a deposition in the case but was never implicated in any wrongdoing. "It was certainly an experience that [Lampert] wishes had never happened and one that he learned a great deal from," says Lampert's spokesperson.

After that experience, Lampert resolved to leave Goldman Sachs. During the summer of 1987, he met Texas billionaire investor Richard Rainwater on Nantucket. Over lunch Rainwater told Lampert, "There is life after Goldman."

Lampert took the advice to heart. A year later he left the firm and started ESL with $28 million in seed money from Rainwater. The fund, Lampert explains, was dedicated to long-term investing-something, he claims, few others aside from his hero Warren Buffett were doing at the time. Rainwater also introduced Lampert to important future clients, such as Geffen.

Within a year, though, Lampert and Rainwater had a falling-out. According to The Wall Street Journal, their dispute was about ego, strategy, and turf. "He's so obsessed with moving in the direction he wants to move that sometimes people get burned, trampled on, bumped into," Rainwater said of Lampert. "I think he has gone about alienating himself from almost everyone who he’s come into contact with."

A former colleague agrees: "He's really an extreme guy. There's something odd about him, I think, his lack of emotional connection to people. . . . It's so important, but some people just don't have that. They're off in their own little world."

AutoZone was Lampert's biggest coup. After acquiring 30 percent of the company, he orchestrated a series of aggressive stock buybacks that had the effect of driving up AutoZone's earnings per share by reducing the shares outstanding. The stock price went through the roof. In 2012, he sold his stock for between $500 and $600 per share-for a total of around $1.5 billion. "For people to say he knows nothing about retail is a little tiresome, because in AutoZone he made a bundle of fucking money," says Tiger Williams.

But there is a big difference between retailing auto parts and selling the thousands of diverse products—from pajamas to tractors to cosmetics—offered by Kmart and Sears. Nevertheless, Lampert's success with AutoZone led him to believe he could handle rescuing Kmart, which had been fighting a losing battle with the big-box stores, such as Walmart.

In 2003 he bought the majority of Kmart's debt before the company went into Chapter 11, after which he took control of it. He immediately set about reducing inventory in the stores, slashing expenses, and cutting back on advertising. "Lampert has a view, which he shares publicly, that he doesn't believe in the traditional manner of how retailers run their business," says Cohen. "He thinks investment in stores is not appropriate."

"We were focused on getting each store profitable and running each store well," Lampert explains. The plan, he says, was for the world to know that Kmart-which at this point was not in debt'had "undeniable financial strength. . . . Even people who didn't think Kmart would last a year out of bankruptcy, they said, 'Well, Kmart may still not be successful, but I get you're not going out of business anytime soon with all that cash.'"

At 7:30 P.M., on January 10, 2003, the Friday before the week during which the finishing touches were to be put on the Kmart reorganization, Lampert went to get his car in the garage of his Greenwich office building. Suddenly he was shoved into the backseat of a rented black Ford Expedition sport-utility vehicle and driven, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a Days Inn, 55 miles away in Hamden, Connecticut. Four young men held him hostage for the next 28 hours in a $49-a-night room. They told him that unnamed AutoZone officials had offered to pay them $3 million to murder him, and they taunted him with a shotgun. On Saturday morning, two of the kidnappers used Lampert's credit card to go on an $800 shopping spree for electronics equipment.

Lampert and two of the kidnappers, who had stayed behind at the Days Inn to guard him, settled on a $5 million payoff. On Sunday, at around two A.M., one of the kidnappers drove him back to Greenwich and let him out on a highway off-ramp to get the money, according to published reports. Why they would have made such a stupid move has not been answered until now.

Lampert, who had not slept in days, walked the half-mile to the Greenwich police station. Tracing the stolen-credit-card transactions (the kidnappers had also purchased a pizza with one), police arrested four local men soon thereafter: Renaldo Rose, a 24-year-old ex-Marine; Shemone Gordon, 23; Devon Harris, 19; and Lorenzo Jones, 17.

In the years since, Lampert has not talked publicly about the kidnapping, nor have the more puzzling aspects of the case been cleared up. When I asked him about it, he frowned. "You're not going there, are you?" he says. "I don't really want to talk a lot about it for a lot of reasons, but I know it's not an unimportant event." All he'll say is that the experience was "not good" and "they could have made a different decision-let's put it that way." Did it change your life? I asked him. "Yeah, yeah," he says. "I'm just not comfortable talking about it."

In 2004, Renaldo Rose, the ringleader, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released early, in July 2016, and returned to his native Jamaica, where he now runs the Foreign Ink mobile tattoo studio, out of a van. Reached by phone, he willingly gave his version of the kidnapping. He recalls that, after serving in the Marines, he "hooked up with some friends and they were already doing jobs." They encouraged him to focus on wealthy local targets, and he read about Lampert in a news article "that showed he was one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, at the time."

Rose says that after being abducted Lampert "freaked out and one of the guys started punching him in the head. So I had to yell at them: 'Listen, you both calm down. Keep quiet and you're gonna be all right.' I made [Lampert] a promise, 'Listen, you don’t give us no problem and we'll let you go.' And he did, so he never freaked out again after initially."

It still haunts Rose today that he might not have gone to prison had he killed Lampert and the other kidnappers: "So it was either like, O.K., get rid of everybody. [But] with Shemone Gordon, [Lampert] was like family almost. He argued against all that. I still think we should have just got rid of everybody. But, I don't know. I did have to consider that. Lampert . . . never gave any problems, so I kind of had to keep my word on that."

Rose dismisses the idea of the AutoZone executives offering $3 million for Lampert's murder as the fabrication of one of his cohorts. But he recalls an intriguing exchange that he says took place between Gordon and Lampert:

"I heard Eddie. I heard some of the discussions, because there was even a discussion when it came to him buying Kmart. He was asking questions such as 'When I get out of here, do you think I should do it?' . . . He said he felt that Kmart was tied up with something with the Mob or Mafia. They used it as a piggy bank. That was the first time I'd ever heard. I'm like, 'Shit. The Mafia is still around?' But he was really hesitant about doing it." (Through his spokesperson Lampert denies he made such comments.)

In the end, Rose says, the main reason he decided to let Lampert go was that his partners were so inept. By using Lampert's credit card, against Rose's instructions, his partners in crime had alerted police to their whereabouts. Rose says they released Lampert not to get the ransom money but to call off what was by then a hopeless caper.

The next week Lampert completed the Kmart deal and soon set about his cost-cutting strategy. It yielded results. "His cash flow exploded, and he was being touted by the financial media as the next Warren Buffett," remembers Cohen. In 2003, Lampert says, operating profit was around $400 million; the next year it was $900 million. In 2005 he decided that Kmart should buy Sears. "Kmart was a turnaround," he says. "Putting Kmart and Sears together was a transformation."

Lampert explained his strategy for the combined company: "When we put Sears and Kmart together, part of the idea was we had all of these Kmart stores that were off-mall," he says. "Sears was sort of stuck in the mall, and Sears, before we made the acquisition, was starting to move off-mall."

Lampert's vision was to keep Kmart and Sears stores as close to Walmart as he could get them. "That's where all the people in town are going," he says. He believed that Sears and Kmart were differentiated enough from Walmart to be complementary, not competitive. He says he invested a lot of capital in Kmart stores but didn't get a return on his investment.

"I'm not sure Kmart on its own could ever be a great retailer," he says. "But you put Kmart and Sears together, in combination they had a chance . . . Kmart had the locations and Sears had the brands."

Lampert also says that starting in 2006 he began making "countercultural investments in online commerce."

"I'm told, for about two years, Lampert actually attempted to run the business," says Cohen. "So for about a year and a half or two years the financial performance of Sears Holdings looked pretty good, but in fact all that he was doing was completely cutting capital expenditures and operating expenses."

Lampert's spokesperson responds, "Managing capital expenditures and expenses tightly has been required, not optional, to improve the company's operating performance and financial flexibility in order to achieve its long-term transformation."

The combined company never really found its niche-which was supposed to be somewhere between Walmart, on the low end, and Macy's, on the high. And then came the 2008 financial crisis, when, according to Cohen, "Lampert stopped appearing to support the business in any conventional way and started to invest free cash flow in derivatives. He hived off Sears Roebuck's three consequential brands-Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard-into a Caribbean-based wholly owned sub of ESL so the company was paying royalties to Eddie Lampert for the use of its own trademarks." (Lampert's spokesperson calls this "completely false . . . There is no Caribbean-based wholly owned subsidiary of ESL nor any subsidiary nor any payments to ESL or a subsidiary of ESL for any of the trademarks.")

The company has been in steep decline ever since. "There are a lot of decisions made over a long period of time, including by me, that may not have been always the best decisions," Lampert admits. "But I did have a point of view in terms of how shopping habits were going to change. I could have put a lot of capital in a Kmart or Sears store and it could look like Bloomingdale's or it could look like Saks, but we didn't have access to products that would be consistent with that.

In other words, if I built an equivalent of Nordstrom's, it's not like all of a sudden Nike would be selling to us." Or that Nordstrom's customers would be coming through his doors. Instead, he says, he targeted his capital on improving his customers' online experience. "I did believe that people are going to be one click away from the best possible experience, the cheapest price, and whatever product they want," he says. "And I could have a better Web site than Nordstrom's. I could have a better Web site than Bloomingdale's. In other words, I don’t need to invest in fixtures, but I do need to invest in the features and the experiences."

But Lampert was evidently ahead of his time in trying to get Sears buyers to shop online. At the time they were just not comfortable enough with the technology to do so. Whatever the reason, Sears's Web site never remotely rivaled the sales in the stores. Or on Amazon.

Now that Amazon is eating Sears's lunch, Lampert is faced with his latest challenge: staving off a Sears Holdings bankruptcy, and he is using every corporate-finance strategy in the book.

In addition to making billions of dollars in loans to the company to provide Sears Holdings with more cash, he has announced the closing of some 300 more stores since the beginning of 2017. He sold Sears's Craftsman line of tools to Stanley Black & Decker for around $900 million. He is considering the sale, or monetization, of the DieHard battery and auto-center brands. "Most of the big transactions that he's been into, like the sale of Sears Canada stock or the sale of Lands' End, have involved or are caught up in special dividends where he's taken the cash out and returned it to shareholders," argues Cohen, "and of course he's the principal shareholder."

Lampert has spun off Lands' End, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores, Sears Canada, and Orchard Supply, each into its own public company. "We're fighting to survive-that's pretty clear," Lampert says.

His critics see things differently. Robert Chapman, a California-based hedge-fund manager, calls Sears Holdings "a total shit show" that is in "secret liquidation" mode. He says he recently came out of a Kmart in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that offered so many bargains he couldn’t believe his eyes. "He's not calling it a liquidation sale," he says of Lampert, "but if you've gone into one of the stores, it's a liquidation deal."

Cohen says, "[Lampert] is a guy who may have harbored some notion of running this business, but if he did he's pivoted to just simply manipulating it, if you will, for his own benefit. . . . This is the creative destruction of a very weak brand [Kmart] and a perfectly viable brand [Sears], both of which together were doing something like $50 billion when he took over, and he’s getting away with it because he’s been able to treat this like a private company.

No public company would ever allow a chief executive officer to remain in their seat who was so intimately tied to these manipulations and presiding over the failure of a business like this. This is not normal, if anything is normal these days. This is certainly not normal."

Cohen believes that a bankruptcy filing is inevitable, and that Lampert will end up benefiting from it because he will be able to "walk away" from onerous store leases and other liabilities, such as the underfunded pension plan, and get rid of those assets that he hasn't been able to sell. Since he's the largest Sears Holdings creditor, Cohen says, "he'll then bring this thing right back out as a new company, and he'll become the new shareholder, and he'll start this process all over again because Sears still has a substantial inventory of at least theoretically valuable real estate, and as long as there's any plus value to any consequential outcome it's all to his benefit."

For his part, Lampert says he is going to keep fighting for as long as it makes sense: "I believe in what's possible, and we're doing things that are necessary to keep the company going. . . . It's definitely not just humbled me, but it’s expanded my awareness of real issues that exist in our society. . . . I feel like I can make a contribution by being involved, O.K.?"

Cohen takes a more cynical view. "This is all just a perversion of our free-market system," he says. "This is the actions of a controlling shareholder treating a company as if it is truly private, with no oversights, no constructive oversight whatsoever, with no intent to protect any of the requisite constituencies other than essentially himself."

Lampert's spokesperson says, "There is no merit to the speculation that Mr. Lampert is working to benefit from the 'liquidation', 'failure' or 'bankruptcy' of Sears Holdings . . . All shareholders-and the Board of Directors that represents them-ensure there is oversight of their interest in the Sears Holdings, as do several other stakeholders (lending partners, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, vendors, employees, members, etc.) who have their own different interests in the Company. So, it is untrue and unfair to allege that the company is being manipulated to only serve the interests of Mr. Lampert."

Despite Lampert's optimism, Sears continues to decline. Many other big-box retailers had a surprisingly robust 2017 holiday sales season, but sales at Sears suffered mightily, down around 17 percent. Lampert once again tried to reassure the company's suppliers and equity holders that it had enough cash to pay its bills as they became due.

On January 10, he announced that he had arranged an additional $300 million of new loans to ease the terms on other loans that Sears already has, in order to buy more time. He also announced that Sears would find another $200 million in cost savings not related to already announced store closings. Nevertheless, the fourth-quarter 2017 loss could be as much as $320 million, and Lampert announced he is going to close another 103 Sears and Kmart stores by this month.

Despite everything, the Sears Holdings stock price has slumped to $2 a share, down considerably from the high of $134 per share some 11 years ago. Sears Holdings now has a market value of around $250 million, making Lampert's nearly 60 percent stake worth $150 million.

At the end of our interview, Lampert made it clear he's not done yet. "Put it this way, if I consider all the other alternatives, they're not great for a lot of people and I just want to be responsible. If I didn't believe that this company could be transformed still-the window is definitely shrinking-but if I didn't believe that, I would try to take a different path. But I don't know what that path exactly would be. It's not a question of giving up or not giving up."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears slashed more than 50,000 jobs last year
By Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune
March 23, 2018

Sears Holdings Corp's efforts to turn around its struggling chains led the retailer to shutter hundreds of Sears and Kmart stores and shed more than 50,000 jobs over the past year, according to the company's annual report, filed Friday.

The Hoffman Estates-based company slashed its U.S. workforce by about 36 percent, from 140,000 full- and part-time employees as of Jan. 28, 2017, to 89,000 as of Feb. 3 of this year.

Closures hit the Kmart chain hardest. Sears Holdings shut down 303 Kmart stores over the past year, or 41 percent of the chain's locations, and 123 Sears stores, about 18 percent of the U.S. Sears department stores it had a year ago.

That left the company with 547 Sears and 432 Kmart stores as of Feb. 3. The average size of the remaining Sears stores grew, however, from 139,000 square feet in January 2017 to 159,000 square feet in February, suggesting the retailer is closing its smaller locations.

Sears' Home Services business, which handles appliance repair and home improvement services, also shrank. Sears said it had 5,200 service technicians as of last month - 1,200 fewer than it reported a year ago. Those technicians made nearly 5 million service calls to 30 million households, down from nearly 7 million service calls to 35 million households the prior year, according to the annual reports.

Sears changed its Home Services strategy in some rural areas and is partnering with local third-party service providers to work with customers on Sears' behalf, spokesman Howard Riefs said. Sears also is hiring workers for its home improvement business and in-home appliance repair business in more densely populated areas, he said.

Sears said in its annual report that continued operating losses, failure to generate additional liquidity and failure to secure additional funding could lead it to default on its debt.

But the company also outlined steps it's taken to fortify its balance sheet and said it believes a number of actions, including more real estate sales, borrowing and restructuring, will do enough to satisfy its liquidity needs for the next year.

In last year's annual report, Sears acknowledged its past results pointed to "substantial doubt" about its ability to remain in business, prompting speculation about the retailer’s demise.

The comments, added to meet regulatory standards requiring management to disclose potential risks a company could face within the year, were "grossly misrepresented" in media reports and commentary that glossed over the company's efforts to fortify its balance sheet, Riefs said in an email.

"Our independent auditors provided Sears Holdings with an unqualified audit opinion, both last year and this year," he said. "This indicates that our company remains a viable business that can meet its financial and other obligations for the foreseeable future."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears to Contribute $407 Million to Pension Plans
By Michael Katz
Risk
March 21, 2018

Retailer will use proceeds from two loans to provide funding.

Sears Holdings Corp. has closed on a new secured loan, and a mezzanine loan, for aggregate gross proceeds of $440 million, which it said it will use to contribute to its pension plans, according to SEC filings.

The loan is secured by properties that were previously subject to a ring-fence arrangement with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). In accordance with a November 2017 agreement with the PBGC, Sears will contribute $407 million of the proceeds into the Sears pension plans.

Sears said the move exempts the company from contributing to its pension plans for approximately two years, except for a $20 million supplemental payment due in the second quarter of 2018. It also said it expects to pay down a substantial portion of the secured loan over the next three to six months using proceeds from the sale of the underlying properties.

The November deal provided approximately $500 million in funding for Sears' two pension plans, which cover approximately 100,000 participants, including contributions already made by Sears since August 2017. The agreement amended a March 2016 agreement between PBGC and Sears, under which Sears agreed to protect the assets of certain special purpose subsidiaries holding real estate and intellectual property for the benefit of its pension plans.

The amendment allowed Sears to monetize the real estate protected in the March 2016 deal, and use the proceeds to fund the pension plans. The non-real estate related pension protections in the March 2016 agreement were unaffected by the new agreement.

As part of the March 2016 agreement, Sears agreed to protect the assets of certain special-purpose subsidiaries holding real estate and intellectual property assets, including the Craftsman brand. The sale of Craftsman required the PBGC's consent. In exchange for granting its consent, PBGC and Sears negotiated additional funding for the plans.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Nordstrom not going private
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
March 21, 2018

Nordstrom will remain in the public arena.

The special committee of Nordstrom's board of directors said has ended talks with Nordstrom family members about taking the company private after the two sides were not able to agree on an acceptable price.

The effort by the Nordstrom family group - composed of company co-presidents Blake W. Nordstrom, Peter E. Nordstrom, and Erik B. Nordstrom, president of Stores James F. Nordstrom, chairman Emeritus Bruce A. Nordstrom, and Anne E. Gittinger - to acquire the company started last year.

Earlier this month, the special committee received and rejected an initial offer of $50 a share, calling the proposed price "inadequate."

In its statement announcing the termination of talks, the special committee said it believed that Nordstrom is "uniquely positioned in the industry and has generated market share gains and industry leading e-commerce penetration fueled by investments in digital capabilities to expand customer reach and engagement."

"The Special Committee is confident that the company's ability to leverage its digital capabilities and its local market assets of people, product, and place will support growth across both its full-price and off-price businesses," the statement said.

The decision by the special committee to end discussions with the family about taking the retailer private comes amid increased caution by lenders to make big investments in retail acquisitions, which often result in the acquired companies being saddled with a heavy debt load.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Holdings Is Running Out of Time
By Adam Levine-Weinberg
Motley Fool
March 19, 2018

Last Thursday, Sears Holdings reported fourth-quarter results that were better than some analysts feared. The company was particularly proud of achieving positive adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) for the first time in three years.

Still, it's one thing to earn a slight "profit" -- excluding major expenses like interest, pension costs, and capital investment costs -- in the seasonally strong holiday quarter. It's another thing entirely to be profitable year-round with no adjustments. There's no sign yet that Sears Holdings is approaching profitability in any meaningful sense. Furthermore, its balance sheet continues to erode rapidly. As a result, Sears remains on a path toward bankruptcy.

The bleeding has slowed, but it hasn't stopped

Sears Holdings' fourth-quarter adjusted EBITDA of $2 million was roughly in line with the updated guidance that the company published in mid-February, and it was a $63 million year-over-year improvement. For fiscal 2017 as a whole, adjusted EBITDA improved by nearly $250 million but remained far from positive territory, at negative $562 million.

While Sears Holdings' losses did recede modestly last year, the company's profit improvement was a fraction of the $1.25 billion in annualized cost savings that Sears supposedly captured over the course of fiscal 2017. That's hardly surprising, though, given that comparable-store sales plunged 13.5% for the full year -- including a 15.6% drop in the fourth quarter. This sales erosion offset the vast majority of the company's cost cuts.

Sears Holdings reported massive sales declines throughout 2017.

Sears CFO Rob Riecker noted that the recent rate of EBITDA improvement has continued in the first month-plus of fiscal 2018. However, that's not particularly impressive.

First, Sears Holdings faces its easiest comparisons of the year this quarter, as Q1 was the only period in fiscal 2017 during which adjusted EBITDA deteriorated. Second, even if adjusted EBITDA were to improve by $63 million year over year in each quarter of fiscal 2018, full-year adjusted EBITDA would still be negative to the tune of $310 million.

Liquidity problems are getting worse

Getting Sears Holdings back to breakeven cash flow is becoming increasingly urgent. At the end of the fourth quarter, it had just $353 million of liquidity, down from $701 million a year earlier. (The company did amend its short-term borrowing basket after the end of the quarter to create an additional $250 million of liquidity.)

However, this may not be enough. Sears Holdings' free cash flow tends to be deeply negative in the first three quarters of the year. For example, Sears burned nearly $2 billion in the first three quarters of fiscal 2017.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Stores Tinker With Strategy
By Sarah Nassauer
The Wall Street Journal
March 19, 2018

Traditional retailers rush to keep up with customers increasingly using tech to shop

Can traditional retailers keep pace with consumers as they increasingly use technology to shop? That is the question confronting hundreds of executives as they gather in Las Vegas this week.

After one of the strongest winter holiday shopping periods in years, many retail chains find themselves in a position of relative strength compared with where they stood a year ago. A strong economy and high employment have made Americans willing to spend, but they are visiting stores less often and increasingly using smartphones to check prices or just check out.

At the Shoptalk industry conference that started Sunday, executives from retail and technology, including Amazon. com Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Macy's Inc. and Walmart Inc., will meet to discuss how they will navigate the coming year.

"It's the first time in a very long time when it feels like the wind is at our back as an industry versus we have to walk into very strong headwinds," said Steve Barr, leader of the retail and consumer sector at consulting firm PwC.

In the most recent quarter, Target Corp., Macy's, Best Buy Co. and Walmart said an overall strong economy and solid holiday spending helped revenue growth. Retailers finally have the money to get basics right-customer service, store remodels and better technology-details that will help traditional chains compete with each other and online, said Mr. Barr.

"The elephant in the room is Amazon, but there is no single technology or magic potion that is going to instantly provide a solution," he said.

Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods last year put in motion a race for brick-and mortar retailers to add home delivery services and for Amazon to increase sales in categories traditionally sold from stores. Walmart said last Wednesday it plans to offer home delivery of groceries in 100 metro areas by year's end. Target, Kroger Co, and Costco Wholesale Corp are adding more cities and products to their home grocery-delivery services.

Higher consumer spending and lower corporate tax rates have helped retailers spend on new technology and improving stores. But profit pressures remain and any perceived bump on the road to compete with Amazon can hurt.

Online sales growth slowed at Walmart in the most recent quarter, though overall sales were strong and Walmart has made big moves to grow online, including buying online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion. The day of the earnings announcement, Walmart's stock fell more than 10%, the biggest one-day drop in the price since 1988. Walmart executives have said they are still on track to achieve 40%U.S. e-commerce sales growth in the current fiscal year.

Retailers should focus on pleasing customers, not just beating Amazon or keeping up with Walmart's investments in the space, said Brendan Witcher, digital strategy analyst at Forrester Research. "The reality is they aren't usually behind their competitors. They are behind their customer," he said.

"If you don't understand your customer, there is no technology in the world that is going to save you," he added.

Last week, the industry had a stark reminder when Toys "R" Us Inc. set plans to close all its U.S. stores, succumbing to a hefty debt load that limited its ability to compete with both Amazon and discounters.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

These Dying Retail Stores Will Go Bankrupt in 2018
By Karen Bennett
Money & Career Cheat Sheet
March 17, 2018

The year 2017 was just not a healthy time for struggling retail stores. Fifty major chains went bankrupt, including iconic brands Toys "R" Us and Payless Shoes. That's up from 47 filings in 2016 and just 30 in 2014. Department stores and other longtime retailers have been crippled by competition from Amazon and Walmart.

What's in store for 2018? The retail apocalypse likely isn't letting up. Here we'll look at retailers that have already filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and others in grave danger of following suit.

1. Bon-Ton

Historically, Bon-Ton department stores were in smaller towns where there wasn't much competition - but once Amazon entered the fray, this changed. The company, which operates Carson's, Elder-Beerman, Herberger's, and Younkers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Feb. 4. It's the largest retailer to go bankrupt so far in 2018. The chain is $1 billion in debt and will shutter more than 40 stores nationwide.

2. Tops Markets

As households move to nontraditional food retailers, Tops Markets is buckling under unsustainable debt fueled by falling food prices and stiff competition. The grocery retailer filed for bankruptcy on Feb. 21, 2018. It plans to keep operating its 169 supermarkets in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. The company has acquired $265 million in loans.

3. Winn-Dixie

Supermarket company Bi-Lo, which owns the Winn-Dixie chain, plans to close at least 100 stores in a potential bankruptcy, according to anonymous sources, Bloomberg reported on Feb. 16, 2018. The company is $1 billion in debt, the report said. This would be the retailer's third bankruptcy. (Previous ones were filed in 2005 and 2009.) Reports say it plans to shut almost 200 stores.

4. Sears Holdings

A 2018 bankruptcy may be imminent as Sears continues its downward spiral. The former retail giant was once a common household name yet now is just a shadow of its former self. Sales have been declining for almost a decade as the retailer closed more stores and laid off employees. Feuding with its Craftsman tools brand supplier and cutting ties with Whirlpool may have put more nails in the coffin.

5. Land's End

Land's End suffers due to its former association with the beleaguered Sears - which spun off the company in 2013. While the catalog still sees strong sales, the waters were muddied under leadership of former CEO Federica Marchionni. She reintroduced the Canvas brand, which failed to resonate among core customers. The retailer is considered at risk of defaulting on a $498 million loan.

6. Claire's

Countless women who grew up in the '80s and '90s remember getting their ears pierced at this teen-oriented jewelry store. Founded in 1961, it's been a staple in malls for decades. However, it's now struggling (it pulled the plug on its IPO) and received a recent poor rating from Moody's, signaling a 2018 bankruptcy could be on the way.

7. Cole Haan

Founded in 1928, Cole Haan was a luxury-leaning dress shoe brand, but its website today prominently sells sports shoes. Maybe parent company Calceus Holdings feels the need to change with the times, but it's been identified by USA Today as one of the 26 retailers most at risk in 2018. The brand is sold in standalone shops as well as at Zappos, Nordstrom, Shoe Carnival, Macy's, and other department stores.

8. Charlotte Russe

This budget women's clothing retailer describes its brand as "fashion that's trendy, not spendy!" This mall staple has seen better days, however. In December 2017, it sought to avoid bankruptcy by seeking a break on store rents. It also reduced its long-term debt from $214 million to $90 million. Only time will tell whether these efforts are strong enough to keep things afloat.

9. J. Crew

J. Crew is another once-popular brand falling victim to decreased mall foot traffic. Sales are in a tailspin, and the company announced plans in late 2017 to close 50 stores. The ailing retailer has been criticized for waffling between affordable yet preppy clothes and higher-end items. Moody's recently gave the company a low rating, signaling a high bankruptcy risk.

10. David's Bridal

The bridal sector saw one bankruptcy in 2017 when Alfred Angelo abruptly shut down. Another filing may surface from David's Bridal. The company offered discounts to the brides who had purchased Alfred Angelo gowns but hadn't received them. Moody's stated in 2017 that the retailer's promotional efforts to improve profit might not be sufficient.

11. Neiman Marcus

Luxury department store Neiman Marcus is among the retailers with the highest near-term bankruptcy risk (as high as 50%), according to CreditRiskMonitor. This is based on stock volatility, credit ratings, and financial metrics. The ailing retailer is $4.8 billion in debt and has seen successive quarterly losses since the first quarter of 2017.

12. 99 Cents Only

Shoppers in the southwestern U.S. may get the most bang for their buck at a 99 Cents Only store. But the ailing discount chain, which operates 391 stores, is on Retail Dive's list of 12 major retailers that could go bankrupt. In the first quarter of fiscal 2018, it racked up an $8.8 million net loss. However, net losses have been narrowing, so only time will tell if a bankruptcy is in store.

13. Nine West

Nine West is in negotiations to restructure its $1.5 billion in debt, Bloomberg reported on Jan. 24, 2018. This includes a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and selling off parts of its business, according to reports. The beleaguered shoe retailer continues to lose market share. It has sold off its Easy Spirit brand and shuttered most of its stores, with only 25 remaining open. The company’s debt exceeds 19 times adjusting earnings, Moody’s reported.

14. GNC

The specialty vitamin and supplement retailer saw its share price fall 66% during 2017, as investors lost confidence in its ability to change with the challenging times. The company is operating under a massive pile of $1.38 billion long-term debt - with only $40 million in cash on the books. That debt will start coming due as soon as September 2018. A bankruptcy would likely prompt both investors and suppliers to flee.

15. Guitar Center

Guitar Center has been around more than 50 years and is the world's largest retailer of guitars and other musical instruments. While it has a year to refinance $900 million in debt, Moody's expects the company will remain stable. However, electric guitar sales dropped 36% from 2005 to 2016 - leaving both guitar makers and sellers suffering. Today's younger generation just isn't buying guitars.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Is Dead Meat Walking, After Horrid Holiday Quarter
By Wolf Richter
Seeking Alpha
March 15, 2018

Why is Sears's CEO still touting "progress," even in SEC filings? Why not tell investors the truth, for once?

Sears Holdings - the storied and once dominant retailer turned into the biggest tragedy in US retail history - reported fourth-quarter earnings today. The quarter, ended February 3, covered the crucial holiday sales period. Revenues plunged 27.7% year-over-year to 4.4 billion.

Over the same period, total retail sales across the US by all retailers, including online, rose 5.2%.

In fact, Sears's revenues were so bad that in the crucial holiday quarter, they were about flat with Q1 and Q2. In other words, Q4 was an unmitigated fiasco-disaster quarter. In Q4 2012, it still had $12.3 billion in revenues...

Taking the revenue trend line of all Q4s going back to 2012 and extending that line as a projection of where revenues might be over the next few years, we discover that revenues will hit zero sometime in 2019 and drop below zero in 2020 - a numerical joke because Sears will be liquidated in bankruptcy court long before then...

For all of fiscal 2017, revenues plunged 24.6% to $22.1 billion

Sears is dead meat. There is no turnaround. There is nothing even slowing down the plunge. Instead, the plunge is accelerating. This is a free fall.

Some of the media outlets put the net income figure into the headline - a profit in Q4 of $182 million. But it was due to an "income tax benefit" of $539 million. As Sears explained it, a "non-cash tax benefit." Of that, $470 million was "related to tax reform." So no additional cash. No reduction in income taxes either, because Sears has been losing so much money for so long, it hasn't paid income taxes in years. So this is just a meaningless number.

In reality, the loss before the "income tax benefit" was $357 million. And this is a meaningful number: it occurred during the crucial holiday sales quarter when retailers must make a profit!

During the year, the number of stores - Sears, Kmart and specialty - plunged by 30%, from 1,430 at the end of fiscal 2016, to 1,002 at the end of fiscal 2017. There were just 570 Sears stores open at the end of Q4. And they're closing those as fast as they can get around to them.

Hedge fund manager and CEO of Sears Holdings, Eddy Lampert, was quoted in the SEC filing as saying, "We made progress in 2017, with a return to positive Adjusted EBITDA and another quarter of year-over-year improvement in our financial results."

"Adjusted" EBITDA is malicious fiction. There was no progress of any kind other than toward a bankruptcy filing. And instead of "year-over-year improvement in our financial results," there was a sharp deterioration. Why is Sears's CEO still touting "progress" and "improvement" - even in SEC filings? Why not tell investors the truth, for once?

He's now busy reshuffling debt and digging out the last few brooms in a closet somewhere to use as collateral. At the end of Q4, Sears obtained a new loan of $100 million from JPP, LLC, and JPP II, LLC, which are solely owned by Lampert. This loan is secured "by certain real property interests" and by "substantially all of the unencumbered intellectual property of the Company and its subsidiaries..." When Sears is digging out its IP as collateral, it's truly scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Prior loans by the same entities and by Lampert's hedge fund, ESL, were secured by the part of real estate that hadn't been sold off in sweetheart deals, many of them on a leaseback basis, to affiliated parties such as Seritage. Seritage, whose chairman is Lampert, was spun off via a rights offering from Sears Holdings in July 2015. Last year, Sears Holdings and Lampert settled a suit that aggrieved investors had filed over the deal for $40 million.

Via this process, Sears is being stripped of anything with any value. It will file for bankruptcy after there's nothing left to strip. Shareholders will get nothing. Unsecured creditors will likely end up holding the bag too. And creditors who hold the real estate as collateral will end up with it. But they too will run into the brick-and-mortar meltdown that is slashing the value of many of these properties, and their once-sweet dreams might not be so sweet anymore.

On the good news of this disaster-fiasco earnings release, Sears shares rose 8.7% in after-hours trading to $2.63, though that's still down from another Lampert hype-induced 52-week high of $14 in April last year.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Reports Another Dismal Quarter
By Suzanne Kapner
The Wall Street Journal
March 15, 2018

Sears Holdings Corp. announced $540 million in new loan agreements and reported another dismal quarter in which sales fell by nearly a third as the struggling retailer continued to close stores.

Total sales fell to $4.4 billion for the three-month period ended Feb. 3 from $6.1 billion a year earlier. Excluding the closures, sales fell 18% at existing Sears stores and 12% at Kmart locations for the three-month period ended Feb. 3.

The company's results contrast with those of other retailers, including Macy's Inc.,

Kohl's Corp. and Nordstrom Inc., all of which reported higher sales for their year-end periods as consumer spending picked up over the holiday season.

Sears swung to a $182 million profit for the period, compared with a loss of $607 million in the same period a year ago, helped by a $470 million tax benefit related to the new tax law.

The company, which has struggled for years under the leadership of Edward Lampert, a financier who is its chief executive, chairman and largest shareholder, also announced three new loan agreements totaling $540 million, some of which are from entities controlled by Mr. Lampert.

"We made progress in 2017, with another quarter of year over- year improvement in our financial result," Mr. Lampert said. "We also recognize that we need to do more if we are to deliver on our commitment to return to profitability in 2018. Importantly, to ensure our long-term viability, we must substantially improve our sales and gross margin performance, including adjustments to our business model."

Sears ended the quarter with $336 million in cash and $69 million available on its credit line. Total debt stood at $4.12 billion.

Sears is under pressure to refinance a portion of that debt coming due in October. A failure to do so could tip the retailer into bankruptcy, analysts have said.

Sears's bonds are on Fitch Ratings Inc.'s list of those at risk of default.

Mr. Lampert has for years defied his critics with financial maneuvers, such as a deal reached last year to sell Sears's Craftsman brand, that have kept the company afloat.

Sears shares, which have fallen more than 70% over the past this year, closed down 5% at $2.42.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Walmart and Sears Get Lowest Customer Satisfaction Ratings
By Paul Ausick
24/7 Wall St
March 12, 2018

The recently published 2017 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for retail stores and websites shows that customer satisfaction is down slightly overall from a record high posted in 2016. The retail sector slipped 0.3% overall from an index score of 78.4 to 78.1.

Department stores and specialty retailers lost the most ground, likely due to continuing satisfaction from shopping online. Walmart Inc. dropped one point to 71, the lowest among the department/discount stores included in the survey. Sears Holdings Corp. tied with Dollar General Inc. (NYSE: DG) at a next-lowest 73.

One bit of good news for Walmart is that its Sam's Club warehouse stores scored an 80 to tie for third behind Costco Wholesale Corp. at 83 and Nordstrom Inc. (NYSE: JWN) at 81.

Amazon.com Inc.) once again led online retailers with an index score of 85. The average score among all online retailers was 82 and no online store scored below 81. Even so, the average score dipped 1.2% year over year. ACSI noted:

[Online] remains by far the most satisfying place to shop. The industry's decline is the result of weaker scores for companies at either end of the size scale. Amazon (accounting for 43% of the total online sales), recedes 1% to 85. The bulk of the category, however, is made up of smaller online retailers and the websites of brick-and-mortar stores.

Walmart was included in the ACSI's "all others" category for online retailers.

Among supermarkets, Walmart again finished dead last with an index score of 73 versus an average of 79 and a high — for Publix — of 86. Costco scored 83 while Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) and Amazon's Whole Foods both scored 81.

Walmart also was the lowest scoring retailer for health and personal care stores, with an index score of 75 against an average of 79. Sears' Kmart stores tied with Kroger for the top score of 80.

Home Depot Inc.) was the lowest scoring specialty store with an index score of 76 versus a category average of 79. The best score went to L Brands Inc. (NYSE: LB) with a score of 85 at its Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works stores. Sporting goods retailer Cabela's, now part of Bass Pro Shops, ranked second with a score of 82.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Scared Money Never Wins
By Brad Thomas
Seeking Alpha
March 12, 2018

Sears Holdings just keeps hanging on.

People have pondered for more than a decade when or if the company - the owner of Sears and Kmart stores, the Kenmore and DieHard brands, and Sears Home Services and Sears Auto Centers - would ever file for bankruptcy protection.

Then came Seritage Growth Properties (SRG) in 2015, a real-estate spinoff that, in my mind, signaled this business wasn't winding down anytime soon. Sears' CEO, Eddie Lampert, who is also a hedge fund guy, is the master behind what many people are calling "the longest-winded going out of business sale" in the history of the retail industry.

I'll return to discussing Seritage in more detail below, but first a little bit more about Sears.

The company lags its peers like Macy's and J.C. Penney in reporting fourth-quarter earnings, but it did make a pre-announcement back in February tied to news about a new private exchange offering for debts maturing this year and next.

In that report, Sears said its same-store sales fell nearly 16 percent overall (Sears and Kmart stores) during the holiday period. Meanwhile, most companies Kohl's, J.C. Penney, Macy's, etc. are clawing their way back at the start of 2018, coming off a healthier November and December than a year ago. But not so much for Sears.

Still, Lampert continues to pour money into the company through his hedge fund vehicle, as evidenced by filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, to keep Sears afloat.

Stores may be depleted of inventory (lots of mattresses and appliances, but that's about it), employees are dwindling, brands like Craftsman have been sold off and some vendors are looking for an exit, but Sears has one thing that analysts, investors and landlords alike would agree is of value: real estate.

In my mind, Lampert will keep that business alive until every Sears box is sold. The REITs (Simon (NYSE:SPG), GGP (NYSE:GGP), Macerich (NYSE:MAC), etc.) have made it clear they want those locations back, if they can get them at the right price. There is a huge ROI for landlords when reconfiguring and re-tenanting these properties.

In some cases, Sears will ink an agreement where it moves into a much smaller space at the mall, but I think that's less ideal for all parties involved - it would be best to nix them altogether. Sears, in turn, will be able to cut costs even more so, as the company has said it aims to do, in a bid to get back to profitability.

At the malls, we've seen Dave & Buster's, T.J. Maxx, grocery stores and a slew of other names move into Sears' old boxes, when the company is finally able to vacate the space.

I think these agreements with landlords are coming together in a number of ways.

One, as Sears' leases expire, the company can choose not to renew.

Two, there is Seritage, which took a chunk of Sears' better real estate in 2015 through a deal where the REIT has the right to redevelop and remove the department store chain.

Three, I'm sure Lampert's real estate team is working feverishly to decide which real estate should be on the chopping block next, based on its value to landlords. I think this is determined much less so based on how the store performs (i.e. how much sales a location brings in), as other retailers would decide. Sears is looking at real estate value.

Before I get into Seritage, I would say I expect another major round of store closures early this year, considering Sears is finalizing a deal with the guardians of its pension fund - the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. - to allow for the sale of 140 Sears properties. Those locations had previously been tied up in a ring-fence arrangement, but Sears has said it's paying a little more than $400 million to have them released.

Investing in Eddie's Piggy Bank

When Kmart's acquisition of Sears was announced in 2004, Eddie Lampert commented: "I don't think any retailer should aspire to have its real estate be worth more than its operating business."

As Sears' prospects began to fade, investors were increasingly eyeing its real estate, and Sears decided to take advantage of the tax-advantaged spin-off of around 200 properties into a REIT that began trading as Seritage Growth Properties.

In an ironic twist of fate, Warren Buffett became a shareholder in Seritage on December 9, 2015.

On December 10, 2015, Seritage shares jumped more than 12% in early trading as billionaire investor Buffett disclosed an 8.02% stake in the REIT (in a Schedule 13G filing the same day). Buffett's stake of 2.0 million shares was valued at roughly $70.6 million, based on the stock's $35.29 closing price Dec. 9, 2015.

As you can see, Buffett's 2+ year investment in Seritage is deemed "even money", that is, shares are now trading at close to the same price ($35.13) as they were when he jumped in (at $35.29).

We all know Buffett is a buy-and-hold investor, he rarely folds his cards, and this reminds me of an old gambler's adage - "scared money never wins".

As I have stated many times on Seeking Alpha, Seritage is a speculative REIT that is essentially deemed the ultimate "value add" play. The bet, as it relates to Seritage, is that the company will be able to significantly grow income and unlock value opportunity to generate material spreads to Sears Holdings' master lease rent upon redevelopment.

As of Q4-17 Seritage's portfolio consists of 253 retail properties (120 attached to regional malls and 133 freestanding or shopping center properties) across 39 million square feet on 3,000 acres across 49 states.

The diversity and scale of Seritage's portfolio aligns with real estate needs of growing retailers that include properties attached to dominant regional malls, as well as freestanding and shopping center properties. The demographic footprint spans coast to coast in desirable markets with strong demographics.

The Seritage Treadmill?

Seritage's model is focused to create substantial value through re-leasing and redevelopment by converting single-tenant buildings into first-class, multi-tenant shopping centers at meaningfully higher rents. In addition, Seritage seeks to maximize value of substantial land holdings through retail and mixed-use densification.

One of the major risks with the Seritage REIT is the risk of its #1 tenant, Sears. Seritage is continuing to reduce its exposure to Sears (48% as of Q4-17). The company has 170 remaining Sears locations with $102.6 million of rent representing 47.8% of all signed rental income; however, $63.4 million of third-party signed not open (or SNO) rent is included in this measure.

Floris van Dijkum, with Boenning & Scattergood estimates that "this SNO income will be recognized at approximately $10.5 million per quarter until mid-2019."

During 2017 Seritage signed 86 leases for former Sears space at an average of $17.49 per square foot or a 4.0 times rent multiple. Dijkum explains:

"The company appears to run on a treadmill as attractive releasing spreads are offset by asset sales that, in turn, are required to fund its development."

While Seritage continues to take its unused Sears space and turn it into more productive third-party rental income, Dijkum adds that "asset sales have reduced third-party income and removed potential upside. We estimate that SRG would need to increase third-party rental income by at least $30.7 million from current levels in order to service its debt fully from third-party income."

The Balance Sheet

At the end of Q4-17 Seritage had total debt of $1.5 billion and $70 million of preferred shares. Net debt and preferred to forward stabilized EBITDA was 7.3x, based on Boenning & Scattergood estimates.

Seritage refinanced its $200 million unsecured loan from ESL that had $85 million drawn and matured in December of 2017 with $85 million of new debt by ESL as well as commitments for another $60 million by an unaffiliated party for another one-year term. At year-end, Seritage had $241.6 million of unrestricted cash and $175.7 million of restricted cash.

Dijkum explains:

"While many investors believe that the company missed its chance to issue equity at a premium to either pay down debt or fund its developments, other investors are concerned that controlling shareholder ESL is effectively on both sides of the table, as both shareholder and creditor."

Scared Money Never Wins

Now, by now you get a feel for what I mean when I say, "scared money never wins".

Seritage is a higher risk alternative, and Dijkum points out that "several investors have asked whether the company could curtail its $1.00 per share annual dividend in order to preserve cash and help fund its pipeline... After all, Seritage did produce a loss of $2.19 per share for the year."

Warren Buffett may not care about the dividend, but as viewed below, there's not much to love about it...

It's not fair comparing Seritage to the traditional Mall REITs since they don't enjoy the same value PLUS opportunities. As illustrated below, Seritage's projected incremental income of over $118 million drives potential gross value creation of $2.0 billion across 63 wholly-owned redevelopment projects originated on the Seritage platform. The estimated incremental yield on cost of ~11.0% assumes total estimated project costs of $1.1 billion.

As Dijkum points out, Seritage's JVs could provide meaningful capital to fund development costs. Seritage has 50% interests in 23 properties through JVs with leading regional mall REITs:

Seritage has already demonstrated its ability to realize value and generate liquidity by monetizing existing joint venture interests. Seritage has raised $240 of unrestricted cash proceeds through sale of certain interests in existing ventures to GGP, Inc. and Simon. Seritage can also form JVs with adjacent land owners, capital partners and mixed-use developers. Also, Mr. Buffett could (I hate to use this term) actually DOUBLE DOWN!

In full disclosure, I must warn all readers, Seritage is a higher risk REIT, and while I do consider the price attractive, success is based upon a variety of factors, and of course, the big question remains "when will Sears fade into the sunset?"

Disclosure: I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Target CEO: 'Strategy Is Working'
By Khadeeja Safdar
The Wall Street Journal
March 7, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS—Strong consumer spending during the holiday season boosted Target Corp.'s quarterly sales, and the retailer signaled it would continue to invest this year to remodel stores and expand its delivery services.

The company said fourth quarter same-store sales rose by 3.6%, its third consecutive quarter of growth. After a dismal holiday performance in 2016, the Minneapolis-based company embarked on a multibillion- dollar spending plan to improve its stores and digital capabilities.

"What a difference a year makes," CEO Brian Cornell said on Tuesday at an investor presentation. "You don't have to get too far into the numbers to see our strategy is working."

Still, Target's spending plan has taken a toll on profits, which trailed Wall Street estimates, sending shares of the retailer down 4.5% on Tuesday. The stock has gained about 27% in a year.

"Despite the good numbers, the sustainability of performance is open to question," Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data Retail, wrote. "After all, Target's results were delivered over a period of robust trading for the retail sector."

Target is among brick-and mortar chains that benefited from rising wages and strong consumer confidence over the holidays. Best Buy Co., Macy's Inc. and Kohl's Corp. posted sales gains as well, though Walmart Inc. stumbled after misjudging its online inventory.

Like other big-box chains, Target has been struggling to compete with Amazon.com Inc. Mr. Cornell has been investing in the company's supply chain, lower prices, exclusive brands, store renovations and new stores in urban areas. Target recently agreed to acquire grocery- delivery startup Shipt Inc., moving to match services that have been rolled out by rivals Amazon and Walmart.

At the investor meeting, Target played a video, showing negative news clips following its 2016 holiday season and changes the company has implemented in the past year. "Coming out of soft holiday sales, the headlines were all about store closures, a catastrophic border tax and a looming retail apocalypse," Mr. Cornell said.

Target plans to remodel 325 more stores in 2018 and add locations in urban areas. The company said it also would launch new brands, expand its ship-from-store capabilities and offer more delivery and pickup options.

Target reported a profit of $1.1 billion, or $2.02 a share, up 35% from $817 million, or $1.45 a share in the same period a year ago.

-Allison Prang contributed to this article.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Target's sales shine in Q4; wage hikes take toll on profit
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
March 6, 2018

Wage increases took a bite out of Target's profit in the fourth quarter even as its sales surpassed Street expectations and its digital channel continued to make impressive gains.

Net income for the quarter ended Feb. 3, which included an extra week, rose to $1.10 billion, or $2.02 a share, from $817 million, or $1.45 a share, in the year-ago period. Excluding non-recurring items, including about $388 million benefit from recent tax legislation, adjusted earnings per share came to $1.37, which was one penney short of analysts’ forecasts.

Target said investments in its employees increased the chain's expenses and put a dent into a profit margins. In October, the retailer raised its minimum wage to $11 an hour, with plans to increase it to $15 by the end of 2020.

Analyst Neil Saunders, managing director, Global Data Retail, commented that Target's excellent sales results "more than justify" its increased costs.

"We are encouraged that the 3.6% uplift in comparables was driven by an evenly split contribution from stores and online," Saunders said. "Not only does this indicate that Target's omnichannel strategy is delivering, but it also shows that the store enhancements are working. In essence, it justifies Target's view that stores remain a critical part of the proposition and are worth spending money on."

Sales rose 10.0% to a better-than-expected $22.8 billion from $20.7 billion last year, reflecting the impact of an additional week in this year's fourth quarter. Same-store sales increased 3.6%, better than analysts had expected. Traffic rose more than 3%.

Comparable digital sales surged 29% and contributed 1.8 percentage points of comparable sales growth. Digital sales accounted for 8.2% of the company's revenue mix in the fourth quarter, compared with 6.8% a year ago.

"Our fourth quarter results demonstrate the power of the significant investments we've made in our team and our business throughout 2017," said Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO of Target Corporation. "Our team's outstanding execution of Target's strategic initiatives during the year delivered strong fourth quarter traffic growth in our stores and digital channels, which drove healthy comparable sales in every one of our five core merchandise categories."

Target has been rolling out exclusive brands and limited-time partnerships, its newest being with British heritage brand Hunter. The company is also in the midst of a major update of its stores. On Monday, Target announced it will remodel 325 stores this year, on the heels of some 110 remodels in 2017.

In the first quarter of 2018, Target expects a low-single digit increase in comparable sales, and adjusted EPS of $1.25 to $1.45.

For full-year 2018, Target expects a low-single digit increase in comparable sales, and adjusted EPS of $5.15 to $5.45.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Survey: State of retail 'very healthy'
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
March 6, 2018

Despite news about the dire state of retail, retailers are bullish on their industry overall and their own business in particular.

Six in 10 merchants view the state of retail as very healthy (ranking seven points or higher on a 10-point scale), according to a survey by Vyze, which provides cloud-based financing technology solutions for retailers. And three in four merchants view the state of their business the same. Merchants with loyalty programs rate their business health even higher than average (81%).

The survey also revealed that 98% of merchants plan to invest in the checkout experience in 2018. Improving the credit application process, increasing financing options, and improving mobile checkout are the top three areas in which merchants plan on focusing their check according to the survey. Artificial intelligence and augmented / virtual reality are the least popular areas for investment among the retailers surveyed.

Other key findings include:

• On average, nearly 30% of goods and services are paid for using retail financing.

• Eight in 10 merchants offer a loyalty program, and those that offer a loyalty program rate the health of their business more highly than those that don’t.

• Loyalty program membership is the top method used to measure loyalty (64%), closely followed by re-purchase ratios (62%). Traditional methods such as Net Promoter Score rank near the bottom with only 43% of merchants tracking this metric.

• While monetary incentives are still the top drivers of loyalty, offering multiple financing / credit options (36%), having a high rate of credit approvals (35%), and shortening the checkout experience (36%) are also viewed as influential in building customer loyalty.

• Six in 10 (63%) retailers surveyed believe that financing declines at checkout have a negative impact on customer loyalty.

• While websites and POS terminals are the dominant methods for submitting financing applications, merchants that offer secondary / tertiary lenders are most likely to use paper & text-based applications.

"Most retailers are optimistic about both the industry and their own businesses, and actively investing in areas such as checkout and financing to drive loyalty and customer satisfaction," said Vyze VP, Customer Success Jai Holtz, VP, customer success. Vyze. "As online and mobile shopping continue to boom, we expect to see a rapid rise in the number of merchants creating or expanding their credit loyalty programs to drive conversion, increase ticket sizes, and improve customer satisfaction scores."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Finally Reached Profitability
By Pandora Capital
Seeking Alpha
March 3, 2018

Sears Holding) is a retailer with more than 1,000 stores across the US. The company has struggled operationally over the last few years, with a significant reduction in sales prompting the closure of several stores (store closure program is still ongoing).

As part of the ongoing debt exchange offering, Sears' management have provided revised Q4 2017 estimates for some key metrics. Sears expects to report net income of between $140m and $240m, driven by a large positive tax item. Underlying operational performance remains very weak...

Q4 Revised Management Estimates

The most important metric we track for Sears is comparable sales (which excludes the impact from closed stores), which management estimates to have decreased by 15.6% in Q4, due to a 12.2% reduction at Kmart and a staggering 18.1% drop at Sears Domestic. This is worrying because it confirms a continuation in comparable sales decrease over the past few years.

Total sales for the quarter of $4.4bn are 27% lower than the same quarter last year, despite the last quarter having an extra week compared to last year's (14 weeks versus 13 weeks).

We have updated our Q4 estimates based on the new data provided by management. We do not expect a meaningful decrease in SG&A, with Q4 generally experiencing the highest costs due to it being the busiest quarter of the year. The $75m impairment charge relates to a non-cash impairment charge to Sears' trade name, which management expects to be between $50m and $100m.

We expect Sears to continue with its real estate liquidation program, and forecast a $320m gain on sale, in line with previous quarters.

We wouldn't be surprised if Sears announces further store closures when the final Q4 results are released. The continued (and accelerating) drop in comparable sales is surely making more stores loss making at the contribution level (i.e. before central overheads).

Conclusion

Despite the headline net profit result driven by the US tax reform, Sear's operational performance remains poor, with a further significant decrease in comparable sales during the busiest quarter of the year.

We re-iterate our SELL rating, and suggest selling any remaining Sears shares. We are confident in ESL's continued support, and do not expect Sears entering bankruptcy proceedings if the debt exchange is at least partially successful. However, we note that a successful debt exchange transaction will result in significant dilution to Sears’ current shareholders, which reduces any potential upside from a miraculous turn-around of the retailer.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha).

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Retailers' Stocks Begin to Turn Higher
By Akane Otani
The Wall Street Journal
March 3 2018

After one of their toughest years ever, beleaguered U.S. retailers are enjoying a pickup in quarterly sales, helping to boost the shares of many brick-and-mortar operators even as the stock market stumbles this year.

The moves mark a partial respite for retailers, which have reckoned with sliding sales, record store closures and bankruptcy filings as consumers have shifted to shopping online. The bleak outlook led many investors to sour on the sector last year, sending shares of several department stores, including Macy's Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Sears Holdings Corp., down by double- digit percentages, while the S&P 500 knocked out a 19% gain.

But in recent weeks, a string of retailers has posted stronger-than-expected earnings, driven by a pop in holiday sales and further rounds of cost-cutting. That has helped spur a rally in shares of companies ranging from department stores and electronics chains to bargain outlets. The S&P 500 department-store subindustry index has climbed 19% this year, while an S&P 500 index tracking the performance of electronics retailers has risen 6.7% and the broad S&P 500 has gained 0.7%.

"Right now, we're seeing the perfect scenario for retailers: high consumer confidence, relatively low expectations [around their performance] and stronger-than-expected consumer spending. When you put all these things together, you have the retail earnings season in a nutshell," said Victor Jones, director of trading at TD Ameritrade.

To many, the retail sector's early gains are the latest indication that the consumer is on strong footing—something that bodes well for the broader economy. Investors and analysts closely monitormeasures including employment, household wealth and consumer confidence, as consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S.'s total economic output.

Recent data have mostly been encouraging, showing U.S. consumer confidence rising in February to its highest level since 2000, even after the stock market tumbled. Retail sales slipped in January, but some economists say the figures could pick up, especially with many workers starting to take home larger paychecks after the U.S. taxoverhaul.

While the broader stock market has managed to rise for years even as many retailers lagged behind, investors and analysts say a pickup in shares of brick-and-mortar operators would be an encouraging sign that the economy iscontinuing to expand.

"It's good to see the consumer- discretionary sector moving up, especially after it not being a leader for so long," said Lori Calvasina, head of U.S. equity strategy at RBC Capital Markets. He added that consumers arelooking fairly strong.

Macy's is among the beaten-down stocks that are seeing a bounce. Its shares jumped 3.5% Tuesday, bucking the S&P 500's 1.3% decline for the day, after the retailer posted stronger sales over the holiday quarter and said it had signed a deal to sell part of its Chicago store. The stock is now up 21% for the year.

"We know consumers are out there, and it's up to us to win with them," Macy's Chief Executive Jeff Gennette said on the company's earnings call.

Discount-apparel retailer TJ XCos. also tore higher, with its shares rising 7% to a 52week high on Wednesday after strong holiday sales helped it beat analysts' estimates for fourth-quarter same-store sales. For the year, its stock is up 9.4%.

Dillard's Inc., the Little Rock, Ark.-based department store, surged 17% Tuesday after it reported earnings and revenue that topped analysts' expectations. Shares of Best Buy Co. jumped 4% Thursday, even as the S&P 500 dropped 1.3%, after the electronics retailer reported same-store sales surging in the holiday quarter as demand for video games rose. But not all retailers have shared in the recent gains. Within the S&P 500 consumer- discretionary sector, which includes dozens of retailers, as well as e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. and online streaming service Netflix Inc., nearly half of the stocks are posting losses for the year.

The disparate gains in the sector have led some to caution that, once again, it pays to be picky within the retail sector.

"Even though there's underlying strength in the data supporting the overall sector, you still have to be careful here," said TD Ameritrade’s Mr. Jones.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Report: Retail defaults could surpass those in 2017
By CSA Staff
Chain Store Age
March 2, 2018

Three months into 2018, there are already three defaults in the retail sector in the United States — and more are expected.

Burdened with high debt loads, the retail industry could see just as many defaults this year, if not more, according to MarketWatch, which cited a study from S&P Global Ratings. There were 11 defaults recorded in 2017.

Approximately 60 days into the new year, three defaults have already been recorded for 2018, the report said. One of the latest is Tops Supermarket Holding LLC, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 21.

Retailers continue to be challenged by different factors. Some companies are carrying debt stemming from a leveraged-buyout boom throughout the last decade, while others have failed to build out their e-commerce capabilities fast enough to compete with online giant, Amazon, according to the study.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Penney Q4 sales miss; cuts 360 jobs, shakes up digital management
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
March 2, 2018

J.C. Penney on Friday reported sales that fell short of analysts' expectations. It also announced a job reduction and management shakeup.

Revenue rose 1.8% to $4.03 billion, up from $3.96 billion last year. Analysts had forecast sales of $4.05 billion. Same-store sales increased 2.6%, missing estimates of 2.7%.

Net income was $254.0 million, or 81 cents per share, up from $192.0 million, or 61 cents per share, year-over-year. The quarterly results included a $75 million benefit from recently passed federal tax legislation Adjusted EPS was 57 cents, which was 10 cents above expectations.

"During the fourth quarter, we delivered our strongest positive sales comps and achieved our largest gross margin improvement for the year, said CEO Marvin Ellison.

"In 2018, we will intensify our market share efforts in appliances, mattresses and furniture, while continuing to take steps to modernize our apparel assortment and omnichannel."

Job Cuts: Penney said it has eliminated 360 jobs, including 130 at its headquarters, in a move that will save the company up to $25 million annually. The retailer said the restructuring has "eliminated bureaucracy, reduced support positions and reallocated store headcount to customer-facing positions."

In the management changes, Mike Amend, executive VP of Penney's omnichannel business, is out. Therace Risch will assume omnichannel responsibilities as both CIO and chief digital officer.

In addition, Joe McFarland has been named executive VP and chief customer officer, a newly expanded role that includes responsibility for merchandising, as well as leading all J.C. Penney store operations. Both McFarland and Risch will report to Ellison.

"As the company continues to make progress on its strategic framework and implement new processes and organizational efficiencies, it is imperative that we maintain a thoughtful approach to managing expenses, while effectively supporting the needs of the business," said Ellison.

For the full year, total net sales decreased (0.3) % to $12.51 billion compared to $12.55 billion last year. Comparable sales increased 0.1 %. The slight decline in total net sales was primarily due to store closures in 2017, most of which closed in the first half of the year, and was partially offset by incremental sales for the 53rd week, Penney said.

Penney posted a net loss of $116 million for the year, compared to net income of $1 million, or $0.00 per share last year. This reduction was driven primarily by restructuring charges associated with the fiscal 2017 store closures and voluntary early retirement program.

The retailer expects 2018 same-store sales to be flat to up 2%, and adjusted EPS of 5 cents to 25 cents, which was below Street expectations.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Retailers Crank Up for Results
By Ben Eisen
The Wall Street Journal
February 27, 2018

Investors buckle up as big store chains get ready to report for the holiday quarter

America's biggest retail companies are due for another round of turbocharged volatility this week.

A number of name-brand apparel makers and department stores are set to announce financial results for the fourth quarter, a period that includes the all-important holiday season. Macy's Inc. drops its results on Tuesday.

Lowe's Cos., TJ X Cos. and L Brands Inc. all release results on Wednesday. And Kohl'sCorp. and Nordstrom Inc. come on Thursday.

It's a tough time for brick and mortar retailers as they struggle to keep up with Amazon. com Inc. and other e-commerce behemoths, which continue to grab market share. Many traditional retailers have closed scores of stores in recent years.

But it hasn't been all bad for these companies, which have sometimes fallen victim to the overly broad narrative that brick-and-mortar retail is dead.

These firms are coming off the best holiday-shopping season in years, which prompted some to say same-store sales, an industry metric, rose over that stretch.

Commerce Department data on retail sales showed a strong end of 2017, though a weaker start to 2018.

Sharp declines in many retail stocks have drawn bargain- hunting investors. Solid could buttress such optimism. Still, there is likely to be much volatility accompanying this latest round of earnings, far more than is typically experienced in other sectors.

Take Macy's, for example. Its stock jumped nearly 11% during one session in November after the department-store chain reported third-quarter profit that topped Wall Street expectations. It was the best one-day performance for the stock since the summer of 2016.

But the stock tanked 10% the day of second-quarter earnings and shed 17% after first-quarter results. The post earnings trading sessions represented the three biggest one-day moves of the past 12 months.

For the November-to-January period, the most recent quarter, analysts project Macy's had adjusted per share earnings of $2.67, which would be up from $2.02 in the year earlier period, according to research firm FactSet.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Nordstrom reportedly finalizing offer to go private
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
February 23, 2018

Nordstrom's founding family group may be closer to its goal of taking the department store company private.

The group met with investment banks the week of Feb. 12 and is hoping to submit an offer as early as next month once the banks get the OK from their credit committees to provide the financing, Reuters reported. Details of the offer were not revealed.

The Nordstrom family, which owns 31.2% of the company's shares, announced in June that it was considering taking the retailer private. It postponed the move in October, citing "the difficulty of obtaining debt financing in the current retail environment." The family, which had been working with Leonard Green & Partners LP to provide equity financing on the deal, said it would resume efforts to take the company private after the holidays.

Nordstrom is set to report its report fourth-quarter earnings on March 1.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Top 10 Retail Predictions for 2018
By Joel Bines and David Bassuk, AlixPartner
Chain Store Age
February 22, 2018

It's February again, and we all know what that means. It's time to bundle up and check out our Top 10 retail predictions for the year ahead.

1. Even more stores will close. We think just as many - and probably more - will shut their doors this year. But we also think retailers will head into those tough decisions with eyes wide open. In 2018, retailers will continue to trim the fat and run store closure programs that squeeze the most value possible.

2. Rising costs threaten to crush margins. Rising inflation, labor costs, omnichannel investments, and price pressure from Amazon and off-price stores are chipping away at already razor-thin margins. But there's hope. The boldest retailers will turn to automation and outsourcing to cut costs aggressively and boost profits.

3. Speedy retailers get even speedier. What was considered fast 10 years ago is now glacial. Retailers used to take a full year to bring a product to market. Now, some retailers - not just fast fashion - are doing it in 10 weeks. We expect many retailers (including established ones) to cut down product development time by as much as 75% this year.

4. ... making inventory levels drop. A faster product development cycle means retailers won't be hoarding inventory and then selling it at deep discounts. Instead, they will shift from buying in bulk each season to buying more often in small quantifies, and eventually move away from a seasonal calendar. That approach makes it easier to buy products closer to the in-store date, which leads to better predictions of what is going to sell and fewer markdowns at the end of a season. This means we'll be less likely to see Eagles Super Bowl merchandise marked down in stores in March - so good news all around!

5. Renting on the rise. The rental market is heating up - and we don't mean apartments. Businesses that give consumers the option to rent or share products instead of buying them will get even more popular this year (especially among Instagram-hungry, cash-poor millennials). But consumers won't be the only renters on the market. Retailers have always outsourced some processes, like distribution, but we think they'll "rent" more outside resources to work on core processes like product design and development. This could help move from a fixed to variable cost structure.

6. Supply chain investments pay off. Everyone knows Amazon set a high bar for logistics, which they are anticipated to raise again with their Shipping With Amazon service. While some retailers are crumbling under the pressure, others are being clever and creative with their supply chains, using vacant retail real estate to handle e-commerce delivery, making big CAPEX investments in warehouse automation, thinking about acquiring transportation companies, and investing heavily in 3PLs to manage returns. We think those who invest will see their own happy returns this year.

7. If you can't beat 'em, join them. Retailers are under enormous pressure to compete online. But e-commerce doesn't come cheap or easy. This year, more retailers could get around antiquated systems and old ways of thinking by acquiring or partnering with born digital start-ups that already have those critical skills and processes. We expect brands to join the Amazon marketplace after playing hard-to-get for years (cough, Nike) and predict other traditional retailers will get cozy with digital natives (like Target and Shipt).

8. Adding a human touch - without humans. Retailers have been getting better at using technology to offer a personalized customer experience online. But this year, they're going to take it to the next level by relying more on chatboxes interacting with customers in text messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

9. Amazing in-store experiences. "No one wants to shop in stores anymore," people say. Well, we disagree. We think savvy retailers will come up with new reasons for people to stop by. In-store entertainment and special services should become big priorities. In fact, more stores won't hold inventory at all and will simply become "guide shops," where consumers can touch the products and sales associates can educate customers.

10. Elephants (finally) learn how to dance. Competition from start-ups and digital natives poses an existential threat to established retailers. For traditional retailers to survive they need to embrace a new attitude to risk, innovate, and break old rules. We see retailers saying goodbye to their "gut" and hello to data to drive decisions - like the data-led Stitchfix.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Will Sears Holdings Ever Turn a Profit?
By Daniel Kline
The Motley Fool
February 19, 2018

Sears Holdings pre-reported Q4 earnings to trumpet the fact that it made a profit in the fourth quarter. That's surprising, given that it also said same-store sales dropped by 15.6% and overall revenue fell from $6.1 billion in Q4 2016 to $4.4 billion in the same period a year later.

Despite those bleak numbers, the company reported what looks like a big turnaround in its fortunes, in a filing with the SEC.

We expect net income attributable to Sears Holdings' shareholders of between $140 million and $240 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, which is inclusive of a non-cash tax benefit of approximately $445 million to $495 million related to tax reform, as well as a non-cash impairment charge related to the Sears trade name of between $50 million and $100 million. This compares to a net loss attributable to Sears Holdings' shareholders of $607 million in the prior year fourth quarter.

Yes, Sears made a profit in Q4, but it did so because of a one-time tax benefit. Without the non-repeating tax gain, the company would have lost between $205 million and $355 million. But even that's an improvement over the previous year's loss when you adjust for the fact that the company is much smaller.

Will there ever be a profit again?

Sears closed Q3 with about $8 billion in assets and roughly $12 billion in deficits. Some of those assets are real estate, brand names. and other one-time sales. It could sell off some of those assets and report a "profit," but it's not a profit from ongoing operations.

That strategy has been what has kept Sears afloat. The company has been selling assets, including its Craftsman brand and its real estate portfolio, to cover for ongoing losses in its operations. The problem is that it's running out of things to sell and sales haven't stopped declining.

On the surface, the Q4 numbers look good, but how much profit there actually was won't be known until the company releases its profit margin numbers. Sears and sister brand Kmart were selling much of their inventory at 30% off or more during the holiday season.

That's not a sustainable model, and it's likely the company has further increased the gap between its assets and liabilities. If that's true, then the company's "profit" was really just an early start on a going-out-of-business sale.

What's next for Sears?

It's hard to see a way forward for a retailer that has lost customers at a stunning pace for over five years. Sears is nearing the end of the line where it has to start showing profits from operations, not from one-time events.

Nothing in its operations suggests that Sears has a chance of doing this. The chain keeps cutting costs and closing stores, with survival, not long-term success, being the chief goal. The company can't cut its way to a continued existence. It needs to win back customers, and the holiday same-store sales numbers suggest that's not happening.

The tax cuts may have bought Sears a little more runway, but there's very little the company can do with it. Not dying isn't the same as being healthy. Sears may not be dead, but unless there's a dramatic change in consumer behavior, it's a question of when, not if.

Daniel b. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears takes hit as value of name drops
By Matthew Rocco
FoxBusiness
February 16, 2018

Sears Holdings said Thursday it will once again book a charge to account for the declining value of its trade name.

The struggling department-store chain has marked down the value of the Sears name and its other brands for three consecutive years. The charge for fiscal 2017 will be $50 million to $100 million. Last year, Sears took a $381 million write-down.

The accounting move records a decline in the estimated value of Sears's name, shopper loyalty and other items, including other corporate brands such as Kenmore appliances. Companies must evaluate the value of their assets each year, posting impairment charges if necessary.

The Sears brand has taken a hit as the Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company wrestles with declining sales. Sears expects to report another loss in revenue for the fourth quarter. In preliminary results disclosed Thursday, Sears said sales are estimated to fall to $4.4 billion, down from $6.1 billion in the fourth quarter of the prior year. But tax reform will help Sears post a quarterly profit of $140 million to $240 million, as changes in the federal tax code provided an on-paper benefit of up to $495 million.

Sears has closed hundreds of stores, spun off real estate and put some of its assets on the sales block in order to turn its fortunes around. Last year, Sears sold Craftsman to Stanley Black & Decker, and Sears has said it will consider alternatives for other businesses.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears' sales fall, but company expects to post a profit
By Lauren Thomas
CNBC.com
February 15, 2018

Sears Holdings said Thursday that same-store sales fell 15.6 percent during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017, but it also expects new U.S. tax legislation to aid the company in posting a profit.

Same-store sales at Sears locations tumbled 18.1 percent, while those at Kmart stores were down 12.2 percent in the latest period.

The earnings pre-announcement came in conjunction with Sears commencing private exchange offers for its outstanding unsecured notes due in 2019 and secured notes due in 2018, the company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sears is calling for revenue of $4.4 billion in the fourth quarter, which includes the holiday season, compared with sales of $6.1 billion a year ago.

Net income for the quarter should be between $140 million and $240 million, Sears said, with the new tax law giving the company a benefit of roughly $445 million to $495 million. Sears lost $607 million during the same period in 2016.

The company also said it will record a noncash impairment charge "related to the Sears trade name" of between $50 million and $100 million. A year ago, that charge was $381 million.

Sears said the ongoing closure of unprofitable stores (under both the Sears and Kmart banners) has "resulted in meaningful improvement" in the department store chain's overall performance. The company said it's moving toward a "less asset-intensive business model."

Shares were up more than 11 percent Thursday afternoon on the news. Sears' stock has tumbled more than 65 percent from a year ago, recently trading below $2, an all-time low.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Retail sales take dip in January
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
February 14, 2018

Retail sales fell 0.26% in January, the biggest decline in 11 months, but increased 5.4% year-over year, according to the National Retail Federation. (The NRF numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants.)

The January numbers follow 5.1% unadjusted year-over-year growth in holiday sales during November and December, which was revised down slightly today from the 5.5% initially reported. December was revised to be down 0.1% from November seasonally adjusted.

"These numbers reinforce a positive start to 2018 that reflects ongoing consumer optimism brought about by solid economic fundamentals," NRF chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "Some observers are spinning this as a disappointing month, but you've got to keep in mind that we're coming off one of the strongest holiday seasons in years. It's also difficult to draw conclusions from month-to-month changes because of the huge seasonal-adjustment factors."

The January results comes as NRF is forecasting that 2018 retail sales will increase between 3.8% and 4.4% over 2017.
https://www.chainstoreage.com/finance-0/nrf-retail-sales-expected-climb-2018/

Most economists were not worried by the January dip and noted that the fundamentals are still in place for steady retail growth.

"With jobs growth still strong, consumer confidence at an unusually high level and the recent tax cuts providing a one-off boost to disposable incomes this month, the near-term prospects for consumer spending remain fairly bright," Andrew Hunter, U.S. economist for Capital Economics, told the AP.

Specifics from key retail sectors during January include:

• Online and other non-store sales were up 13.2% year-over-year and were unchanged from December.

• Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 6.6% year-over-year but down 0.4% from December seasonally adjusted.

• Building materials and garden supply stores were up 6% year-over-year but down 2.4% from December seasonally adjusted.

• Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 3.1% year-over-year and up 1.2% from December seasonally adjusted.

• General merchandise stores were up 3% year-over-year and up 0.2% from December seasonally adjusted.

• Electronics and appliance stores were up 2.9% year-over-year and up 0.5% from December seasonally adjusted.

• Health and personal care stores were up 1.8% year-over-year but down 1.2% from December seasonally adjusted.

• Sporting goods stores showed the only year-over-year decrease, down 5.9% and also down 0.8% from December seasonally adjusted.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears pensioners try to recoup missing money by going after billions paid to shareholders
By Sophia Harris
CBC
February 13, 2018

Sears Canada pensioners are heading to court to try to recoup close to $300 million they say is missing from their pension fund following the retailer's demise.

Representatives for Sears pensioners will ask Ontario Superior Court on Thursday to appoint a trustee to scrutinize nearly $3 billion paid in dividends to Sears shareholders — the biggest recipient of which was Eddie Lampert, CEO of U.S. hedge fund ESL Investments.

The pensioners' aim is to recover some of the dividend money, not just to help top-up their reduced pensions, but also to provide funds for other creditors owed money by Sears.

Lampert says there's nothing suspect about the dividend payments, but many ex-Sears employees disagree.

"There is good reason to believe that was inappropriate," says pensioner representative and Sears retiree Ken Eady.

Trustee request 'not surprising'

A court document filed by the pensioners' legal counsel claims the dividend payments — totalling $2.934 billion — deserve close examination by a litigation trustee.

The money came from the sale of valuable Sears Canada assets such as prime real estate. The dividends were paid out between 2005 and 2013, during a time when the retailer's sales and profits declined and the company's pension plan started to show a shortfall.

"Despite the company's continued financial deterioration, Sears Canada's board of directors approved the payment of dividends to its shareholders," states the court document.

It also takes aim at Lampert, stating that in 2005, Sears Canada came under the control of ESL Investments run by the U.S. businessman, who greatly benefited financially from the dividends.

"Through ESL, Lampert had direct and indirect control of shareholdings of Sears Canada at the material times, and was the main beneficiary of dividend payments," said the document

Eady says it was inevitable that pensioners would go after the dividend payments.

"It's not surprising that this would happen, given in what universe is it correct for a company to sell its assets, pay the dividends and leave the creditors without anything?" he said.

Pension problems

Eady says, according to Sears' actuaries, the pension plan is underfunded by approximately $270 million. That means about 16,000 ex-Sears employees will face an estimated 19 per cent reduction to their pensions.

The looming shortfall has left many Sears retirees angry and distraught about their retirement prospects.

"It's going to hurt. I might have to get a part-time job to off-set what I'm not getting," said 72-year-old Attilio Malatesta. He spent more than half of his 44-year career with Sears working in sales in Kelowna, B.C.

Malatesta says he's pleased about the plan to go after the dividend payments.

"It's a good thing," he said. "I think we've got a fair chance."

Sears Canada didn't respond to a CBC News request for comment.

But in a blog posted on the weekend, Lampert defended the dividend payments,, stating that a company needs to provide adequate returns to shareholders to stay viable.

He said the payouts didn't hurt the retailer because it continued to invest in the company at consistent levels.

He also noted that in 2012 and 2013, Sears made its required pension contributions, even though $611 million was paid out in dividends. However, by that point, the plan was already showing a deficit which was never recouped.

Lampert also said that Sears' shareholders have collectively lost more than $1 billion since 2012, even when taking into account the dividend payments.

As for Sears Canada's demise, he said it was primarily the result of a costly, but unsuccessful, restructuring strategy launched in 2016.

"I raised concerns about this strategy with management but the company decided to proceed," he said.

Lampert is also CEO of Sears Holdings Corp. (SHC) in the U.S., which operates separately from Sears Canada.

He essentially became Sears' largest shareholder through ESL Investments and his holdings in SHC which previously held a large stake in Sears Canada.

SHC also defended the dividend payments in a statement.

"Sears Holdings received dividends that were duly authorized by Sears Canada's board of directors during a time when Sears Canada was clearly solvent, with minimal debt," said spokesperson Chris Brathwaite in a statement.

"We believe any attempt to reclaim those dividends would be unfounded,"

Lampert also said the Sears Canada's pension plan's shortfall has been overestimated and suggests there won't even be a shortfall when the fund is paid out.

Retiree Eady disagrees, but says he wishes that Lampert was right.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

The Sharks Are Already Circling a Wounded Sears
By Wayne Duggan
U.S. News Money
February 13, 2018

Analysts are speculating how the company's market share will be divided.

Sears Holdings Corp is still struggling to stay afloat by cutting costs and closing stores, but there have been few signs that the effort is working. Instead, some investors are preparing for Sears to eventually disappear all together, and UBS says the lion's share of Sears' remaining business could go to just three other companies.

According to UBS analyst Michael Lasser, location and product overlap suggests Home Depot, Lowe's Companies and Best Buy Co. would get the majority of Sears' remaining appliances, home improvement and electronics business.

Sears' revenue is down more than 60 percent in the past decade, but its remaining $11 billion in annual revenue could soon be up for grabs.

Sears is closing another 103 stores in the first few months of 2018 after closing 358 stores in 2017, but it was still currently operating around 1,100 stores as of the end of the last quarter. UBS estimates that roughly 80 percent of those stores are with a 15-minute drive of a Home Depot, Lowe's and/or Best Buy location.

While Amazon.com and other online competitors are often blamed for the downfall of legacy brick-and-mortar retailers like Sears, Lasser says the bulk of Sears' remaining businesses aren't the types that are typically vulnerable to online disruption. Instead, those sales would likely go to other local brick-and-mortar stores.

If Sears were to close all its remaining stores (which it has given no indication it will do any time soon) UBS estimates Best Buy would get a 2.5 percent boost to same-store sales and a 10 percent boost to earnings per share. UBS estimates Lowe's would get a 1.7 percent same-store sales boost and a 4 percent EPS boost. Home Depot same-store sales would rise 1.4 percent, and EPS would increase 2 percent.

As far as the 2018 outlook for Sears itself, Lasser is not optimistic.

"With interest rates set to rise and corporate tax reform not benefiting SHLD, as it's not profitable, we think its woes will only accelerate going forward," Lasser says, according to CNBC.

Even after closing its least profitable stores, Sears' same-store sales dropped 15.3 percent in the most recent quarter after dropping 11.5 percent in the previous quarter. Sears has reported $11 billion of losses in the past seven years and reported $4.4 billion in debt as of the end of October.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears to add new twist to its loyalty program
By Deena M. Amato-McCoy
Chain Store Age
February 12, 2018

Sears is giving its Shop Your Way members another way to earn points.

Through a partnership with sports-focused live streaming TV provider FuboTV, the department store is expanding its Shop Your Way loyalty program into a new category: live streaming video services. The agreement gives Shop Your Way members access the video service, which includes more than 65 channels of live sports, entertainment and news content.

In addition, members who subscribe to the Fubo Premier package will receive "Cashback" in Shop Your Way points. These will total the first month of paid subscription fees, plus additional Cashback points every month during the first year of paid service, according to Sears.

Subscribers can earn $20 Cashback points for the first full paid month of service after the seven-day trial, or $3 Cashback points per month for the next 11 months of paid service for the first year fulfilled subscription term. These points can be used on "millions of items" from Shop Your Way partners, such as Sears, Kmart, Lands' End and on the Shop Your Way website, Sears reported.

"We're giving members 100% of their first month of paid service Cashback in Shop Your Way points after they sign up," said Robert Naedele, chief commercial officer, Shop Your Way. "This partnership offers members new flexibility and personalization to their entertainment options with the everyday value they've come to expect from Shop Your Way."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears: Here's how things got so bad
By Chris Isidore
MSN.com
February 12, 2018

Sears was once the king of retailers. Now it's a cash-starved shell of itself whose very survival is in doubt.

How it got to this point is a sad tale of a once proud and iconic brand.

"This has turned into a slow death," said Sean Maharaj, director in the retail practice of consultant AArete.

Sears literally changed America by changing how Americans shopped, and ultimately lived.

When the Sears catalog first launched in 1888, most people made their own clothes and even their own furniture. Sears introduced mass-produced items instead. New labor saving appliances like washing machines changed the nature of household chores. Its stores helped lead to the suburbanization of postwar America, anchoring malls that helped new communities to grow.

It was the nation's largest employer. It was the Walmart and Amazon of its day, combined.

But as the 20th century came to a close, so did Sears' reign.

It fell behind big box competitors such as Walmart, which offered lower prices and a wider variety of goods, including groceries. In 1999 Home Depot, another big box rival that grew at Sears' expense, took its place in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, an index of the nation's most important and powerful companies.

As the 21st century began and Americans began shifting to online shopping, Sears fell farther and farther behind.

Instead of changing to meet the new reality, it took a step backwards, merging with another troubled retailer Kmart, to form Sears Holdings.

Its new CEO, hedge fund operator Eddie Lampert, thought he could turn around both companies simply by cutting costs and selling the real estate where underperforming stores were located. Sears and Kmart had 3,500 U.S. stores between them when the deal closed in 2005. When the latest round of store closings is complete, the company will be down to about 1,000 locations total.

The mistake Sears made, say experts, was failing to invest that savings to rebuild the business.

The company that invented at home shopping more than a century ago squandered an opportunity to become a major player online.

At the same time, Sears let its physical stores fall into disrepair. While other traditional retailers tried up upgrade their in-store experience, experts say Sears remaining locations were starved for cash, leaving them desolate, uninviting backwaters in the world of retail.

Macy's, Kohl's and JCPenney have all struggled with the shifting retail landscape, but they've adapted to the new reality better than Sears. Each of them reported strong holiday season sales this past year.

Meanwhile, sales at Sears and Kmart stores plunged 16% and 17% in November and December compared to a year earlier. And that doesn't even count the sales it lost due to more store closings.

"When you look at Macy's, they've invested a lot into their brand," said Greg Portell is lead partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney. "Sears hasn't invested in its brands."

In fact, it's been selling off its bedrock brands just to generate cash. Kenmore appliances. Craftsman tools. Diehard batteries. For years these trusted brands could only be found at Sears.

But Kenmore appliances and DieHard batteries can now be purchased on Amazon, and Sears is considering selling the brands themselves. Later this year you'll be able to buy Craftsman tools at Lowe's, after Sears sold the Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker.

But Land's End is the brand that best illustrates the decline of Sears.

Unlike Kenmore and Craftsman, Sears purchased the Land's End business rather than creating it, paying $1.9 billion in cash for it in 2002. But its sales fell far short of expectations. By 2014 Sears had spun off the company to shareholders in a deal that brought Sears just $500 million in cash.

Today Lands End is a stand alone company with stock worth a total about $550 million, more than twice the $225 million market value of Sears Holdings.

Sears shares have been plunging for months, hitting a series of record lows. It's down 40% so far this year.

The company insists it will be able achieve its long-promised turnaround.

"We remain intensely focused on becoming a more competitive retailer," the company said in a statement last month. "We expect that the actions we are taking will support these efforts."

But last year Sears had to warn that there was "substantial doubt" it could remain in business. That made its problems worse because Sears suppliers started getting nervous. The entire retail industry relies on suppliers to provide goods on credit. But Sears vendors starting demanding cash up front or faster payments to protect themselves in case the retailer filed for bankruptcy.

Whirlpool, which started selling its appliances at Sears in 1916, was the most notable example of a vendor departure. The manufacturer stopped selling its Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid and Jenn-Air products to Sears as of October 2017.

Sears was once the leader in U.S. appliance sales. But by last year, Sears accounted for less than 3% of Whirlpool's global sales.

"What you had is lack of strategic vision," said the consultant Sean Maharaj. He said all the store closings, brand sales and other efforts aren't likely to produce the promised turnaround.

"They're just delaying the inevitable," he said.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Canada Creditors Seek Trustee in Court
By Andrew Scurria
The Wall Street Journal
February 12, 2018

Sears Canada Inc. creditors are targeting Eddie Lampert, its former controlling shareholder and the chief executive of its U.S. namesake Sears HoldingsCorp., over payments he received before the Canadian business collapsed last year.

A group of pensioners served court papers Friday in Ontario's Superior Court of Justice asking for the appointment of a trustee in Sears Canada's bankruptcy proceeding to dig up additional funds. The trustee would scrutinize nearly $3 billion in dividends paid out since 2005, of which Mr. Lampert and his hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc., were "major beneficiaries," according to the papers.

Mr. Lampert responded to questions in a blog post Sunday, expressing regret over the company's failure and blaming its demise, in part, on Sears Canada's board.

A Sears Holdings spokesman said Sunday the company received dividends that were authorized by Sears Canada's board at a time when Sears Canada was clearly solvent.

"We believe any attempt to reclaim those dividends would be unfounded," the spokesman said.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Why Did Sears Holdings Corporation Shares Drop by 28% in January?
By Daniel B. Kline
The Motley Fool
February 8, 2018

The company is running out of options.

Sears Holdings keeps borrowing money as its sales continue to shrink. The company followed a miserable holiday season with a new round of financial moves designed to keep it afloat.

What happened

When a company loses money for six straight years, it's hard to see any good news. Sears CEO Eddie Lampert, however, has been relentless in saying that the chain was on track for a turnaround.

Over the 2017 holiday season that was clearly not the case. Comparable-store sales at Sears and Kmart fell between 16 and 17% during the crucial sales period. That's very bad news for a company that has been selling off pieces of itself in order to keep the lights on.

In addition to reporting its lousy holiday numbers, Sears also borrowed another $100 million and confirmed plans to borrow another $200 million. That, plus the fact that it plans even more job cuts, sent shares in the company plummeting.

After closing the year at $3.58, shares in the company tumbled throughout January to finish the month at $2.57, a 28% drop according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

So what

Sears is running out of runway. The retailer has more debt than assets and it's becoming limited in its ability to borrow to fund its losses. Despite that Lampert remains relentlessly optimistic.

"We made significant progress in 2017 through our efforts to reset our cost base and enhance our liquidity, as well as our recently announced agreement with the PBGC to pre-fund our contributions to our pension plan for the next two years," he said. "The initiatives we have announced today build on those achievements and make clear our determination to remain a viable competitor in the challenging retail environment."

Now what

All the optimism in the world does not change reality. Sears needs more customers and that does not appear to be something that is happening. You can't cut and borrow your way to viability.

At some point, people need to show up and shop. Sears has been shedding sales and customers for years and there's no reason to think that will change. That makes all of these financial moves rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You can do that all you want, but the ship will still sink.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Former Sears Holdings exec joins BJ's digital team in new role
By Deena M. Amato-McCoy
Chain Store Age
February 7, 2018

BJ's Wholesale Club appointed a new executive to bolster its digital innovation.

Naveen Seshadri will take on the newly created position of VP, digital commerce and experience. In addition to focusing on the continued expansion of BJ's omni capabilities, he will also lead digital customer experience strategy, e-commerce merchandising, digital marketing and digital insights and analytics.

Seshadri was previously COO for travel guide book publisher Lonely Planet, responsible for leading strategy and digital transformation. Prior to that, he held senior management positions at Sears Holdings, running product strategy and analytics initiatives.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Edward Lampert: Should He Be Defined by Sears?
By Robert Abbott
GuruFocus.com
February 5, 2018

"If you're unwilling to try new things and to fail and learn, you don't have a shot. That doesn't mean you are going to be successful, but you have to try to change." --Edward Lampert.

For some 20 years, Edward Lampert, also known as Eddie, was a hedge fund power player, with returns averaging more than 20% a year.

Over the past decade, though, his name has become synonymous with Sears, which has not been a good thing. The retailer has struggled, bringing Lampert's ESL Investments down with it. But is that all there is to Lampert? And, is it a certainty that Sears must fail?

Who is Lampert?

According to Value Walk, Lampert became an intern at Goldman Sachs right after graduating from Yale. After completing his internship, he worked in the bank's risk arbitrage department.

But he did not stay long. In 1988, at age 26, he left to start his own firm, ESL Investments (named after his initials). Over the firm's first 20 years, he produced average annual returns of more than 20% (gross/net not specified), making him a superstar in the first decade of this century.

Lampert's name has become deeply intertwined with the Sears brand over the past 15 years. According to Business Insider, in 2002, he bought a controlling interest in another troubled retail chain: Kmart. His buy was motivated by the real estate assets of the company. He doubled down on retail two years later by investing enough to bring Sears into the fold. Following the merger, the combined company was called Sears Holdings Corp.

His leadership tenure at Sears has been controversial. Soon after setting up Sears Holdings and becoming its chairman, Lampert and the company began a share buyback campaign that lasted five years. Lampert defends the practice, saying it was the most efficient use of capital because further investment in stores was no longer necessary. Critics say the buybacks starved the company of capital it would need, forcing it to sell off assets to stay afloat.

The critics have an important point: while Lampert was engaged in buybacks, Amazon.com Inc. was reinvesting everything it could into its new platform.

What is ESL Investments?

ESL describes itself as an asset manager offering private investment funds. The firm is free to invest in a "broad" range of investment products, including equity and debt securities, fixed-income securities, convertibles, derivatives, swaps, options and other products.

Its clients are limited partnerships and limited liability companies formed in the U.S. and international jurisdictions. Specifically, they serve ultra-high-net-worth individuals and family offices as well as institutional investors. Clients may need to agree to a five-year lock-in period.

In its latest Form ADV, filed March 31, 2017, the firm listed just over $2 billion in discretionary assets under management. GuruFocus put its equity assets at $512 million on Nov. 14.

In 2012, Lampert moved ESL from the New York City area to Miami. The New York Post notes one of the consequences of that move appears to have been the loss of William Crowley, who had been president and chief operating officer for 13 years, while the positives included better tax treatment.

Strategy

Lampert says he is value-driven and bases his investment decisions on disciplined, extensive fundamental analysis and field research.

• The firm looks for good companies with strong fundamentals that are selling at a discount to their intrinsic value.

• It takes a bottom-up perspective. It focuses on the business models of individual companies, rather than sectors or industries.

• They like to stick with what they understand, eschewing macroeconomic factors or industries which they do not fully understand. Typically, most of its investments have been American companies through American markets.

• Lampert places a good deal of importance on management teams, looking for those that have shown their business skills, and focus on shareholder value.

• A concentrated portfolio is the consequence of investments in a limited number of companies. When the firm finds opportunities, it makes a substantial investment. It does not aim for a diversified portfolio.

• As for activism, ESL takes both passive and active positions. In cases of the former, they engage with management and the board to increase shareholder value, especially on capital allocation. Lampert says they prefer to work constructively with management and do not like to publicly air grievances. He serves on several boards and is chairman of Sears Holdings.

• A long-term perspective comes with investment, as they look at a minimum of five years for a holding. This allows them to invest in companies that have temporarily fallen out of favor.

• It is Lampert's long and deep commitment to Sears Holdings that will no doubt define his legacy. Critics look at the competitive landscape as well as these fundamentals, and turn away.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

A Big Investor Is Giving Up on Sears
By Wayne Duggan
U.S. News Money
February 2, 2018

The company's fall has been "hugely frustrating and fatiguing."

Sears Holdings Corp announced it is cutting another 220 jobs this week, and one of its largest shareholders is now bailing on his holdings.

Sears has been shrinking for several years, closing stores, selling assets, laying off employees and cutting costs in an effort to turn around the struggling company. Last month, Sears announced it is closing another 103 stores in the first few months of 2018 after closing 358 stores in 2017.

In a letter to his Fairholme Capital Management hedge fund investors this week, former Sears director Bruce Berkowitz says Sears' downsizing and cost cutting is to be expected. However, the rapid deterioration of Sears' business has caught many investors off guard. Berkowitz remains Sears' second-largest investor, but he has been dialing back his exposure to Sears and said the company "wrecked" Fairholme's overall performance in 2017.

"Sears realized billions of dollars from asset sales, as we predicted, but I did not foresee the operating losses that have significantly reduced values," Berkowitz says in the letter. "Getting the asset values largely correct but missing the company's inability to stop retailing losses has been hugely frustrating and fatiguing for me to watch."

After years of defending the company, Berkowitz has sold more than 3.9 million shares of Sears stock since November. In his letter, he tells investors Fairholme's position in Sears is now "much diminished" from where it was a year ago.

Even with Sears closing its least profitable stores, same-store sales dropped 15.3 percent in the most recent quarter after declining 11.5 percent in the previous quarter. Sears hasn't turned a profit since 2010 and has generated roughly $11 billion in losses in the past seven years. As of late October, Sears was $4.4 billion in debt.

Last week, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Sears' credit rating from CCC- to CC, a level considered to be extremely speculative, non-investment grade, or "junk" grade.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, says the S&P downgrade means Sears is rapidly approaching judgment day.

"Sears has been on a trajectory to failure for a long time," Saunders said, according to USA Today. "However, this announcement suggests that the moment of impact is getting closer."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Why Sears Holdings Corp Stock Fell Feb. 1
By Jeremy Bowman
The Motley Fool
February 1, 2018

Shares of the retailer dipped as it cut more jobs and reported a new round of borrowings.

What happened

Shares of Sears Holdings Corp slipped again today as the company announced more layoffs and yet another round of loans to help it stay afloat. The stock was down as much as 6.6% during the session, but closed off 3.1% due to a late-session surge.

So what

Yesterday, news broke that Sears was laying off another 220 people at its headquarters as the company looks for more ways to cut costs amid massive losses in its retail business and declining sales. The retailer said the job cuts were part of a restructuring plan that intended to cut $1.25 billion in annual costs.

Today, the company followed that up by disclosing another $210 million in borrowings over the last month from entities owned by CEO Eddie Lampert. Those loans follow a debt restructuring plan and more borrowings in January. The report seems to indicate that Sears continues to bleed cash, as the company said that comparable sales at both Sears and KMart locations fell by double digits during the holiday season.

Now what

With another round of job cuts and borrowings, this is just more of the same for Sears; the company also announced last month that it would close 103 stores. Today's news seems to be just one more small step toward what looks like the company's inevitable demise as customers are fleeing stores and the company is racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in annual losses.

The largesse of Lampert and his investment fund has kept the company afloat so Sears stores could stay open as long as he's willing to fund them, but the numbers are only likely to get worse since the company failed to take advantage of the best holiday season in years for retailers. Expect a further financial downfall when Sears reports fourth-quarter earnings in March.

Jeremy Bowman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears lays off 220 employees, mostly at Hoffman Estates headquarters
By Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune
January 31, 2018

Sears Holdings Corp. has laid off about 220 corporate employees, effective immediately.

Most of those employees worked at the company's Hoffman Estates headquarters, and the cuts affected various business units and roles across the organization, Sears spokesman Howard Riefs said Wednesday in an email.

The layoffs are part of an ongoing restructuring effort at Sears, and they follow rounds of cuts in March and June, both mostly in Hoffman Estates, totaling more than 500 jobs. The company said it will provide severance and transition assistance to eligible employees.

Sears declined to say how many people remain at its corporate headquarters. The company told the Tribune following the June layoffs that it had fallen below a minimum of 4,250 employees in Hoffman Estates and its Loop satellite office needed to secure state tax breaks. The state agreed to the tax incentives in 2011 after Sears threatened to leave Illinois.

The retailer told the state in January 2015 that it had 5,444 employees in Hoffman Estates and the Loop.

"The company will continue to take decisive actions to restructure our operations, targeting at least $200 million in cost savings on an annualized basis in 2018 unrelated to store closures," Riefs said.

The struggling department store chain said it made "significant progress" in its restructuring last year, hitting its target of $1.25 billion in cost savings.

But after another holiday season of steep sales declines, Sears said this month it was taking steps to strengthen its financial position, including making more cost cuts and closing 103 stores by April, in addition to 63 it had previously said would close after the holidays.

At the close of trading Wednesday, Sears’ shares were down 28.2 percent since the start of the year.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Is There Any Value Left in Sears Holdings' Assets?
By Adam Levine-Weinberg
The Motley Fool
January 31, 2018

Sears Holdings still owns hundreds of properties and some well-respected brands. But these assets aren't worth enough to offset the company's rapidly mounting liabilities.

Shares of fallen retail titan Sears Holdings have lost more than 90% of their value just in the past three years. Virtually every department-store operator has been struggling, but not to the same extent as Sears.

Indeed, Sears Holdings' revenue has plunged by more than 40% during this period. Store closures account for some of this decline, but the company is also paying the price for failing to invest in its stores, with comp sales plunging at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, Sears has been burning about $2 billion of cash annually.

Despite these horrendous trends, some investors remain bullish about Sears Holdings. Most of these bulls recognize that the company's retail empire is doomed, but they argue that Sears still has lots of valuable assets that can be monetized. However, this is a dated view that may have been true five years ago but doesn't reflect the company's current situation.

The real estate is almost all gone

Real estate sales have been Sears Holdings' biggest source of funding in recent years. Between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2016, the company received nearly $4 billion of proceeds from selling real estate. Sears Holdings brought in another $867 million from real estate sales in the first three quarters of fiscal 2017, plus an additional $167 million in November.

This situation puts the company on pace to comfortably exceed its goal of selling $1 billion of real estate in fiscal 2017. However, the result is that there isn't much real estate left to sell in future years.

As of a year ago, Sears Holdings owned 293 Sears full-line stores, 67 Kmart stores, and 20 smaller specialty shops. The rest of its stores were leased. In April, the company stated that it was already evaluating bids totaling upwards of $700 million for more than 60 stores. Given that Sears Holdings is set to end the year with more than $1 billion of real estate proceeds, it probably sold significantly more than 60 stores, leaving it with ownership of 300 or fewer stores.

Earlier this month, the company disclosed that 138 of its remaining properties -- nearly half of the total -- have an aggregate appraised value of just $985 million. If that average value of about $7 million per property holds for the rest of the company's owned store portfolio, the aggregate value of the stores that Sears Holdings still owns would be around $2 billion.

Sears Holdings also owns its headquarters complex and 12 distribution centers, and some of its store leases have value. Nevertheless, it's unlikely that the company has more than $3 billion of real estate left -- and even that could be a generous estimate.

The brands have lost value

Sears Holdings' brands are its other major asset. Last year, the company sold its Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker for total consideration of about $900 million. The agreement allowed Sears to continue sourcing and selling Craftsman-branded tools in its own stores without paying royalties to Stanley Black & Decker for 15 years.

Kenmore and DieHard are the company's other two prestige brands. However, it's doubtful that either one is worth as much as Craftsman. For example, just before Craftsman went on the market, it held 28.5% of the hand tools and accessories market, plus about 9% of the power-tools market. For comparison, Kenmore's market share fell below 13% in 2016, and probably plunged again last year.

Furthermore, Stanley Black & Decker's market cap is nearly twice that of top appliance maker Whirlpool. At a high level, this suggests (but doesn't prove) that the tool business is more attractive than the appliance business.

Sears Holdings also has a large services business, which is probably still profitable. However, this revenue stream is quickly drying up as the company shrinks. In Sears' most recent quarter, services revenue plunged by 19% year over year to $435 million. Since services contracts are often attached at the time a product is purchased, this services business is likely to continue eroding rapidly as Sears Holdings shrinks its store base. This severely compromises its value.

Not enough assets to offset the liabilities

At the end of the third quarter, Sears had a negative book value to the tune of $4 billion. Assets on the books included $1.9 billion of property and $1.5 billion of goodwill and other intangible assets. The company expects to post another loss of at least $200 million for the fourth quarter, which will further reduce its book value.

In addition, even if management moved to wind down the company's retail operations as soon as possible -- which it has shown no sign of doing -- Sears Holdings would probably lose at least another $1 billion to $2 billion during that process. Severance pay, the cost of exiting leases, and inventory writedowns would all take a toll.

In total, the company's remaining real estate, brands, and ancillary businesses may be worth $5 billion or more. But they would probably need to be worth $10 billion for Sears Holdings shares to have any value. Based on the valuations realized for Sears Holdings' asset sales of the past few years, it seems very unlikely that Sears still has $10 billion of assets.

Adam Levine-Weinberg has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Passing of a retail giant
By Marianne Wilson
Chain Store Age
January 29, 2018

The man who turned a small, Swedish mail order company he founded at age 17 into a global, $48 billion retail powerhouse has died at the age of 91.

Ikea on Sunday announced the passing of its founder, Ingvar Kamprad. He died at his home in Smaland, Sweden, following a short illness, the company said.

"He will forever be remembered as a great entrepreneur, who turned his dream into a lifelong mission to make life better for the many people," stated Jesper Brodin, CEO and president, Ikea Group, which operates some 350 stores around the globe. "He believed that everyone deserves a better life, and that Ikea can answer to their needs and dreams at home, even with small means."

Kamprad stepped back from day to day operations in 1988, but continued to contribute to the business as a senior advisor, sharing his knowledge and energy, Brodin added.

"His greatest contributions to Ikea are his vision - to create a better everyday life for the many people, the Ikea culture and the long term approach to business," he said.

Kamprad formed him company's name from his own initials and the first letters of his family's farm and the surrounding village. He grew up in a rural part of Sweden whose citizens are known for their thrift and ingenuity, traits that Kamprad possessed and which are foundation for Ikea's corporate culture. Its employees follow some basic tenants written by Kamprad in 1976, "The Testament of a Furniture Dealer," which states that "wasting resources is a mortal sin," and stipulates Ikea’s “duty to expand."

In 1950, Kamprad introduced furniture, made by manufacturers in areas close to his home, into his mail-order catalog. Based on the positive response, he decided to discontinue all other products to focus exclusively on low-priced furniture. Several years later, he debuted the concept that would be the launchpad for Ikea's global expansion and success: flat-pack (or ready-to-assemble) furniture, an idea analyst Neil Saunders called "revolutionary."

"Distributing flat-pack was much more efficient and economical than shipping fully made items," said Saunders, managing director, GlobalData Retail. "It also divided the effort - prices were lower because the customer had to assemble the product; that was the trade-off or compromise."

Ikea owned by the foundation that Kamprad created, whose statutes require profits to be reinvested in the company or donated to charity.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Stock Falls Another 9% and Is Down a Whopping 31% in Just Days
By Michelle Lodge
The Street
January 27, 2018

Analyst partly attributes latest drop to a big share sale by a former Sears board member's investment firm.

Shares of Sears Holdings tumbled as much as 10.4% Friday before recovering a bit to close at $2.54 -- a new record low, and a 8.6% loss for the day. The embattled retailer's stock has shed 25.5% just since Tuesday's close and gave up nearly 31% over the past six trading sessions.

Sears Holdings tumbled from $3.67 on Jan. 18 to just $2.54 as of Friday's close. That's more than a 30% decline over just six sessions.

Susquehanna International Group analyst Bill Dreher believes the pullback partly has to do with the selloff by major shareholder Fairholme Capital Management LLC, which recently sold some 8 million Sears shares. Fairholme is run by Bruce Berkowitz, who was on the Sears board until October.

Dreher said Berkowitz began selling off his Sears shares after he left the board. Fairholme did not reply to a request for comment.

Dreher added that a larger issue has to do with Sears' troubles, including ongoing quarterly losses. Dreher also said that while the new U.S. corporate tax cuts give Sears' competitors 10% to 20% tax breaks, Sears doesn't benefit because it has no profits to tax. "Their sales declines are getting worse," Dreher said.

Some experts are predicting that Sears will file for bankruptcy this year.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Holdings' Stealth Dilution
By Daniel Jones
Seeking Alpha
January 26, 2018

On January 23rd, the management team at Sears Holdings made a fascinating announcement that will have major implications for the company's investors. Despite fears that the retail giant's days are numbered, the business made an interesting move that, if completed as planned, has the potential to significantly reduce debt and interest expense and dilute common shareholders in return. In the best case scenario, this could give the company some breathing room, but shareholders should be cautious since the tide is still very much against the firm.

A look at management's statement

In its latest press release, Sears stated that it intends to initiate an exchange offer whereby holders of different classes of debt may exchange their notes for new notes that will be convertible into common stock. In particular, this will affect the company's 8% 2019 Senior Unsecured Notes. According to management, the new notes will have the same maturity date as the existing ones, but the difference is that the holders of those notes have the right to convert them at will at a price that is equivalent with $8.33 per share. This means that, for ever $1,000 in principal, the debt holders will receive 120 shares of the business.

A similar arrangement is being planned for Sears' 6.625% Senior Secured Notes. Originally due in 2018, these new units will mature in 2019 and their effective conversion price will be $5 per unit. This implies that every $1,000 in debt will be able to convert, at the owner's will, to 200 shares. In addition to the 6.625% Senior Secured Notes converting on these terms, Sears intends to amend its debt agreement covering its Second Lien debt in the amount of $300 million to convert under the same terms. An additional $95 million in Notes with maturity dates of between 2027 and 2043, and with interest rates ranging between 6.5% and 7.5% will be exchanged for new Notes due in 2028 that will also be convertible and that will carry a rate of 7% per year.

There are some other aspects of the retailer's notes that deserve attention. According to the press release, while the holders will have the right to convert the notes, if the volume-weighted average price of the firm's stock trades above $10 for a specified period of time, conversion will be mandatory under the terms prescribed. However, given that Sears' share price today is $3.41, the chance of a mandatory conversion is highly unlikely. In addition, as opposed to paying interest on these Notes in the form of cash, management has the ability to pay it in-kind. This means that they will be able to issue additional Notes that will be convertible into common. Based on my reading, it appears all in-kind payments will be conducted at the same interest rate that exists for each respective set of Notes, with the exception of the $95 million, which will be paid at a rate of 12% instead of the 7% cash rate.

An interesting strategy that eliminates some debt

At this time, major holders of Sears' debt are ESL (which is run by Lampert) and Fairholme. According to the retailer's latest 10-Q, ESL owns $199 million worth of Senior Unsecured and Senior Secured Notes, while Fairholme owns $393 million. There are other stakes both firms have in the pot, such as the ESL-issued $300 million Second Lien debt, letter of credit facility, and secured loan facilities. Needless to say, then, those most impacted will be ESL and Fairholme given their concentration in the business.

It's impossible to read management's mind here, but the likely outcome will be that an eventual conversion will take place (likely this year or early next year on most of the Notes). Based on my math, and not factoring in the in-kind payments associated with the new Notes (so I'm assuming that interest is paid in cash), the end result will be the issuance of around 195.76 million shares of Sears' stock. As of the end of the business' latest quarter, its total share count stood at 107.61 million shares. This means that existing shareholders in the business will have been diluted by 64.5% if a full conversion transpires.

Obviously, any sort of dilution for existing investors is a negative, but unlike a bankruptcy scenario, there are positive aspects to this transaction for common holders. First and foremost is the fact that principal payments that would otherwise have to be refinanced or paid off are now no longer a concern. In all, up to $1.17 billion worth of debt could be taken off of Sears' books. Considering that Sears had debt at the end of its latest quarter of $4.40 billion, this kind of write-off is not immaterial.

The other benefit relates to interest expense. Assuming a full acceptance of its exchange offer, paying interest expense in kind or converting the debt into common units will reduce the company's interest expense by $92.56 million per year. This goes a long way toward helping the retailer's bottom line and helps to stave off some cash outflows. One interesting conflict of this, though, is that ESL and Fairholme have an incentive to continue paying themselves in kind for as long as possible. Because they effectively control Sears, the dilution from continued in-kind payments raises some fiduciary questions since the best thing for shareholders would be to convert as quickly as possible, while the best thing for the debt holders would be to delay conversion.

Takeaway

Sears has tried time and again to prop its business up, but nothing has seemed to work. Poor management, underinvestment in the firm's stores, and a negative environment for traditional retailers have all but doomed the business. This strategy by management now will help to alleviate required interest payments, but the cost to shareholders should be considered, as should the fiduciary questions being posed by this transaction. Personally, even though this will help Sears' bottom line, I intend to stay far away from Lampert and his dealings.

Disclosure: I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Top 4 Reasons Sears Could File Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2018
By Michelle Lodge
The Street
January 25, 2018

A special report on why the end could be near for an iconic American brand.

It's a matter of when, not if, some experts say. It refers to when Sears Holdings Corp. declares bankruptcy, which inches closer by the day.

"Sears is at the intersection of being highly leveraged and highly vulnerable without a strong omnichannel [presence]. The whole public perception of Sears is not favorable," Brian Davidoff, head of Greenberg Glusker's Bankruptcy and Financial Restructuring Group, told TheStreet. "A [bankruptcy] filing of Sears would be the most likely," said the expert, who oversaw the bankruptcy of Bachrach Men's Store in 2017.

Ratings agencies are apparently in agreement. On Tuesday, Fitch downgraded its rating on Sears, which operates both the Sears and Kmart brands, to a "C" from "CC" after Sears announced plans to exchange various tranches of debt. Last week, S&P Global likewise downgraded Sears to a "CCC-" from an earlier "CCC," reflecting the rating agency's view that it considered the debt restructuring "distressed because we believe lenders would receive less than the original promise."

The downgrades mark the latest woes for once-proud Sears. The legendary retailer was founded in 1886 and grew to be the model for the industry, in many respects the Amazon.com Inc. of its day. An American icon, Sears once sold everything from baby bottles and toys to prefab houses and car parts. Its 500-page-plus mail-order general-merchandise catalog, which lasted until 1993, was long a lifeline to everyday items for rural customers.

Current CEO and Chairman Eddie Lampert, a hedge-fund manager, began to assemble what would become Sears Holdings in 2003 by buying Kmart (then a separate company) out of bankruptcy through the conversion of debt holdings into equity. The following year, Kmart bought Sears for $11.5 billion and combined the two to form Sears Holdings.

But 14 years later, Sears shows all of the signs of a company gasping for air. Nowhere is that more evident than the stock price. Shares of Sears touched a high of $115.37 in early 2007, but have lost some 97% of their value since then. The stock fell nearly 8% on Wednesday to close at $3.12.

Sears has also endured thousands of store closings and laid-off legions of long-time employees. Some of the stores were sorely out of date, with bare shelves and dirty floors, and seeing declining revenue. Meanwhile, the bad news for Sears has caused some suppliers to shun it and the need to raise massive debt to stay alive -- money often coming at high interest rates from Lampert's company ESL Investments Inc.

Of course, Sears isn't the only traditional retailer shuttering stores and laying off workers -- Macy's Inc.), J.C. Penney Co. and Kohl's Corp. have been doing the same. But their futures appear brighter because, they've all shown an uptick in sales in spite of challenges in the brutal bricks-and-mortar retail sector.

Moreover, Wall Street analysts are bullish about positive changes those retailers have made to land the consumer. But as for Sears, closing stores in key markets means the company is giving away business to big-box competitors like Target, Walmart Stores and Home Depot Inc.

Making Headlines for the Wrong Reasons

Lampert's reputation as a money manager, once bright, has taken a knock as Sears has crumbled.

The Sears chief's career as a hedge-fund manager ended when he embraced the retail space. In 2004, he was so lauded that BusinessWeek put him on the cover with the headline: "The Next Warren Buffett?" How fortunes change.

"If anyone is destined to inherit Buffett's perch as the leading investment wizard of his day," wrote BusinessWeek's Robert Berner at the time, "it might just be Edward S. Lampert. Since he started [ESL Investments Inc., Lampert's private investment fund] in 1988 with a grubstake of $28 million, he has racked up Buffett-style returns averaging 29% a year."

But Lampert is no longer a cover boy for business magazines. Instead, some say that he's a poster child for what not to do when managing a company. From reportedly working remotely from headquarters and churning through executives, Lampert has struggled to execute on whatever vision he has for Sears. Inside, Lampert is overseeing what many industry insiders see as a failing retail company.

"From the start, Sears disinvested in the stores," retail veteran Michael J. Berne, president of MJB Consulting, explained to TheStreet. "They weren't investing in the company and stores as a retailer, and it shows. Sears has been in free-fall."

It also missed a golden opportunity through Kmart to capture the large group of urban low-income consumers, Berne added. Instead, through its lack of focus it ceded that lucrative business to Target, Walmart and other retailers.

True, Berne said that Lampert does deserve praise for trying "big ideas" like Shop Your Way, the company's loyalty program. "Eddie Lampert has put a significant amount [of money] in play to give this initiative a chance," Berne said. "He's monetized the real estate, some of the iconic brands — everything that he could. You can be cynical about it, but he's nothing if not committed. Whether it's the right thing to commit to is another matter."

Add it all up and experts say they're seeing four signs that Sears' days might be numbered:

Bad Sign No. 1: Endlessly Closing Stores

Sears announced just weeks ago that it will shutter 103 more Sears and Kmart stores during 2018's first four months. That will reduce the total number of Sears and Kmart stores to around 1,000. By contrast, there were more than 2,000 Sears and 1,400 Kmart locations during the firm's heyday in 2006, according to Bloomberg data.

Closing stores is never a great step for a retailer. "The question is, 'When you have a smaller number of stores and lower sales volume, can that support the structure?" said Davidoff, the bankruptcy expert. "When a retailer gets rid of the losing stores, it realigns the corporate overhead structure so it's cash-flow positive with the remaining stores."

Bad Sign No. 2: Wary Suppliers

Sears has low inventories and stark shelves at some stores, as observed during recent store visits by TheStreet. Industry experts say that's due at least in part to some vendors declining to provide Sears with goods — and if you don't have the goods to sell people, you can kiss your retail business good bye.

"Empty shelves result in a downward spiral, not just because desired merchandise is unavailable for purchase, but also the consumer starts thinking that stores will close and then returns will not be be accepted, gift cards will not be redeemed," said Berne, the retailing expert.

One clothing manufacturer, who requested anonymity because he fears legal action from Sears, said he worked with the company for decades — selling it multi-million-dollar orders before cutting ties because he believed Sears would eventually default on payment. He said Sears does pay its bills, but like many retailers, stretches out payments.

Ron Friedman, partner of the accounting and advisory firm Marcum LLP, told TheStreet that many vendors stopped selling to Sears in the last two to three years. "When you sell to Sears, it's at least a $300,000 order. I don't have any clients who can take a hit like that," said Friedman, a certified public accountant, who's served consumer-product companies for 45 years and worked with at least 100 clients that have sold to Sears in "good times and bad."

Now, though, none of Friedman's clients sells to Sears, focusing on selling to Walmart and Target instead. Friedman said that when Sears was flying high, an order from the retailer could easily be $1 million and vendors could have $20 million to $30 million in backlogs of orders from the chain. But today, many orders have dropped to the $200,000-to-$300,000 range, he said. Friedman added that savvy vendors might now parse out their shipments — sending, say, $100,000 worth of goods and waiting until they're paid before shipping more.

Some vendors might be making so much on the margin from Sears that a missed payment doesn't faze them. Or, suppliers might demand prepayment or shorter payment terms. "That's the only sane way to do business with Sears now," Friedman said.

Vendors selling to retailers typically hire a company called a factor, which functions as a credit and collections department, handling accounts receivable and bookkeeping. Factors also will lend against those receivables and pay the vendor for the bulk of the order immediately after shipping, with the balance coming later.

But Ken Wengrod, president and founder of a factor firm named FTC Commercial, told TheStreet that many factors dealing with merchandise for Sears jumped ship at least a year ago.

Martin D. Pichinson, co-founder and co-managing member of the liquidating firm Sherwood Partners, told TheStreet that "the factors are tightening up. The suppliers are in concern mode."

Retailers often get 30 to 60 days to pay for a shipment. Yet in this tough retail environment, suppliers are demanding the retailers that can't get credit pay within 15 days, said David Berliner, a restructuring and turnaround services partner at BDO U.S. One clothing manufacturer said that suppliers start the time clock when the shipment is picked up by the retailer; many retailers begin the count only after they have received and examined the order.

When factors pull out, the next step for a vendor or supplier may be to hire a credit-insurance company like Euler Hermes, which handles none of the collection tasks done by factors and pays the vendor if the retailer defaults on payment . Of course, vendors may sell to a retailer directly with no guarantee of payment, but that's very risky and can leave them with empty pockets.

Long lead times, finicky foreign manufacturers and Sears' shaky reputation also play into whether a vendor decides to sell to the retailer, added Friedman.

"You have a three- or four-month lead time if the goods are manufactured in China," Friedman said. "Who wants to place an order for Sears if [the chain isn't] going to be in business when the order is ready? The vendor thinks: 'That means I have to eat those goods.' ... That's why they stay away from Sears. They don't want to take that risk."

Bad Sign No. 3: Rising Interest Rates

With the Federal Reserve boosting interest rates, it costs more to borrow money. That puts pressure on some retailers and vendors.

A company without much debt can absorb the rise in rates, but it's a different story for those with lots of debt, like Sears. "As interest rates go up, it costs companies with debt more, and higher interest rates can be expensive," Rob Greenspan, president of Greenspan Consult, which advises the retail sector, told TheStreet.

Retailers often offset those higher costs by selling more or cutting costs, but Greenspan said that while Sears is reducing expenses by closing stores, it means "they aren't growing their top line and probably not increasing margins."

Combined sales of Sears and Kmart stores for the holiday season 2017 were down 17%, part of a long-term downward spiral. Between 2013 to 2017, for example, sales were nearly cut in half, from about $40 billion to $22 billion.

With plunging sales has come a need to incur debt. Sears' long-term debt was at $1.9 billion in 2013 but jumped to $2.2 billion by the end of 2017's third quarter. Short-term debt was at $1.2 billion in 2013, but four years later had nearly doubled to $2.3 billion.

Bad Sign No. 4: Pushing Out Bond Repayments

Sears has been extending maturities on debt, which is rarely good news.

Last month, Sears extended the maturity of $400 million of debt that had been set to mature in June 2018, although it repaid $568 million in 2017. The maturity date on the remaining debt is now January 2019, with the option for Sears to further extend it to July 2019. On a separate $500 million loan, Sears paid down half of the balance and pushed back the maturity date to April 2018, with the option to extend the date to July 2018. The company's total outstanding debt as of the third quarter was $4.5 billion, half of which is due over the next two years.

Fitch Ratings managing director Monica Aggarwal broke down the bond obligations due in 2018 for TheStreet, saying that Sears owes $1.2 billion this year — out of which Lampert's hedge fund, ESL, owns $874 million, which is secured by either inventory and receivables or by real estate.

Of the $874 million held by ESL and affiliates, $461 million is secured by real estate, with a $413 million of short-term line of credit secured by a second lien on inventory and receivables. The remaining $303 million is secured by a second lien on inventory and receivables. Then, $1 billion of debt is due in 2019. In 2020, what comes due is $1.2 billion of debt and Sears' $1.5 billion revolving-credit facility.

In addition, Aggarwal said, the company has gone from negative $325 million in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) in 2013 to negative $810 million in 2016. Fitch predicts that 2017 and 2018 will each yield between a negative $600 million and negative $700 million in EBITDA.

In a note last year, Fitch estimated that Sears would have to raise some $2 billion in liquidity for 2017 -- in line with what it has done for the past five years -- based on negative EBITDA and $800 million total in interest expense, capex and pension expense. Aggarwal told TheStreet that Sears needs to raise about another $1.5 billion in liquidity to fund just the business this year. In addition, it has to address upcoming debt maturities, hence the need for more money.

The stress on Sears shows in the debt markets. Sears senior subordinated bonds bonds, due December 2019, are trading at $48, roughly half of what they were trading at in October 2017, according to Fitch.

"The way we have been talking about Sears for the last three or four years is that the company needs about $2 billion a year," Aggarwal said. "If they can't raise it, the risk of [bankruptcy] is high."

Is Chapter 11 Ahead?

Put it all together and Davidoff said Sears' recent history bears the markings of other retailers that sank.

For instance, the expert said that Circuit City — which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008 and Chapter 7 liquidation a year later — was facing a loss of vendors. Davidoff added that suppliers also fled from from Radio Shack, which filed for Chapter 11 in 2015. Then there's toy retailer Toys "R" Us, which filed for Chapter 11 in December when suppliers abandoned the company in response to media reports of an impending bankruptcy.

Davidoff said that to claw out of the morass, Sears must continue what it's been doing — closing money-losing locations; slashing extra inventory; soliciting support from vendors for better credit terms; reducing overhead and improving cash flow.

"Sears is at a break point," he said. "If there is a [bankruptcy] filing, that filing is likely to occur this year."

Sears did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Another Body Blow: Sears Holdings to Shutter Over 100 Stores
By Eric Volkman
The Motley Fool
January 24, 2018

In what's hardly a surprise, the struggling retailer announces yet another round of store closures.

Considered to be one of the biggest victims of the retail apocalypse, Sears Holdings continues its desperate bid to stay alive. The company's latest survival move, announced at the beginning of this year, is to close 103 of its Sears and Kmart stores throughout the U.S., with liquidation sales to begin shortly thereafter.

Shareholders have been hoping for years that the company will stem its sales declines and return to something close to profitability. Will this latest retrenchment help?

Barely holding on

The short answer? Probably not. Sears Holdings has been in fire-sale mode for years now, and its finances aren't recovering to any significant degree.

Sears Holdings, which had a huge footprint in its glory days several decades ago, has built a recovery strategy on the divestment of assets (plus cash infusions from a reliable source). This latest announcement follows a year during which the company closed around one-quarter of its remaining stores. Over 100 is significant given the total store base had already dwindled down to just 1,100 locations as of last October.

The company has also put several brands on the chopping block. Just over a year ago, it sold its Craftsman line of tools to Stanley Black & Decker for $900 million. Before that, it spun off both Orchard Supply Hardware -- subsequently acquired by Lowe's -- and home furnishings maker Lands' End into separate, publicly traded companies.

But there are only so many properties and so many brands. Besides, divestments don't solve Sears's major problem: People just aren't interested in shopping at its stores, even during the holiday shopping season. The company recently released its holiday 2017 sales figures, and they were ugly -- comparable-store sales dropped by 16% to 17% for the period, worse than even the awful 12% to 13% decline of the previous year.

Optimists might point to Sears Holdings' most recent bottom-line figure as a sign that the turnaround is finally happening. The company's shortfall for the third quarter was "only" $558 million, down from $748 million in the year-ago period and better than the average analyst estimate.

However, that was on the back of a 27% slide in revenue to $3.66 billion, which is only partially due to the declining store count -- same-store sales slumped by 15% during the quarter. The situation is even worse on the cash flow statement -- both operating and free cash flow have been well in negative territory for quite some time.

Apocalypse now

Although the depths of the retail apocalypse are somewhat overstated, it's nevertheless consuming businesses that haven't adapted to the new landscape crafted by Amazon and its online peers.

The current paradigm mandates traditional retailers to be clever, flexible, and imaginative in winning customers. Some are: Witness the renaissance of certain brick-and-mortar players like Best Buy. By contrast, Sears Holdings seems stuck in an old-fashioned way of doing business. Recent statements by CEO Eddie Lampert regarding store redesigns indicate an "it ain't broke so don't fix it" mindset.

To my mind, that inability to adjust is a big reason why Orchard Supply Hardware is in the portfolio of Lowe's, Stanley Black & Decker now controls Craftsman, and Sears itself keeps borrowing money to stay afloat. This latest round of store closures is also the result, and like those other moves, it's a Hail Mary that almost certainly won't save this company.

Eric Volkman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Holdings' Store Closures: No Problem for Seritage Growth Properties
By Adam Levine-Weinberg
The Motley Fool
January 19, 2018

Earlier this month, struggling retail icon Sears Holdings announced yet another round of store closures. By early April, it will shutter 64 Kmarts and 39 full-line Sears stores.

This might seem like bad news for Seritage Growth Properties. After all, the Sears spinoff still leases the vast majority of its property to Sears Holdings. However, only a small handful of the 103 stores being closed this spring are owned by Seritage -- and in most of those cases, Seritage probably wants the space for redevelopment purposes.

Seritage is protected from Sears' meltdown -- partially

In recent years, Sears Holdings has been closing stores at a rapid pace in a desperate attempt to stem its losses. It has also downsized some of its remaining Sears stores.

Sears Holdings' master lease with Seritage Growth Properties has enabled these moves. Under the master lease terms, Sears has the right to terminate the leases for stores that aren't earning enough money to cover the rent. Given the sorry state of Sears Holdings' finances, a lot of its stores may fit this description. On the flip side, Seritage generally has the right to "recapture" 50% of the square footage in its properties (and 100% in some of them) in order to redevelop that space and lease it to new tenants that are willing to pay higher rents.

Fortunately, the master lease prevents Sears Holdings from dumping a ton of unwanted real estate on Seritage all at once. It is limited to terminating about 20% of its leases with Seritage in any given year. Sears is also required to make a payment equal to one year of rent, taxes, and other operating expenses upon terminating the lease for any property.

Looking at the latest round of store closures

It doesn't look like Seritage will feel much negative impact from lease terminations related to the current set of Sears and Kmart store closures. In fact, none of the 64 Kmart stores being closed are leased from Seritage.

Furthermore, five of the Sears stores that are closing were previously owned by a joint venture between Seritage and Simon Property Group. However, Seritage recently sold its 50% interest in those properties to Simon, collecting $68 million -- and relieving itself of the need to invest in redevelopment projects at those sites.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

>

Why Did Sears Holdings Corp. Shares Lose 61% in 2017?
By Daniel B. Kline
The Motley Fool
January 15, 2018

Sears Holdings) has been in a downward spiral for over five years. The company has been losing money, closing stores, and selling assets in a desperate bid for survival.

What happened

Though the company has a turnaround plan, there are very few signs that it's working. CEO Edward Lampert would point to the fact that the company losses narrowed in Q3 -- from $748 million ($6.99 loss per diluted share) in Q3 2016 to $558 million ($5.19 loss per diluted share) in Q3 2017 -- but in reality the losses have shrunk in line with the company's overall decline.

Sears has lost over $1.6 billion in 2017 so far, following a $2.2 billion loss in 2016, and a $1.1 billion loss in 2015. It also has, as of the end of the quarter, total assets of $8.1 billion, down from $10.8 billion at the end of Q3 2016. Additionally, the struggling retailer has $12 billion in total liabilities, down from $14.2 billion a year ago.

So what

Basically, Sears has done very little to convince anyone that it has begun to turn its fortunes around. Mostly, the company has shown that none of the changes it has made has resonated with customers.

There's very little, if anything, to be encouraged about and investors took note. After closing 2016 at $9.29 shares fell to $3.58 at the end of 2017, a 61% drop, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Now what

Sears has assets to sell and has put forth a plan to get through at least the next few months, but there are no guarantees it will work. At this point, it seems very clear that the company can put off the end, but that unless something changes, the end is inevitable.

The retailer has only survived this long because it has a portfolio of assets and real estate that it could sell. Most of those assets are gone and what's left may not be as easy to sell. Unless something changes, it's hard to see how Sears makes it to 2019.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

How Sears created modern retail in Illinois
By Eric Peterson
Daily Herald
January 14, 2018

Editor's note: Most people know about the Great Chicago Fire, but there's a lot more to Illinois history than that. Native American settlements thousands of years old, the battle over slavery, the transfer of influence from southern to northern Illinois, wars and riots, the gangsters and politicians and artists and athletes that shaped our state all will be part of a yearlong series of articles to mark Illinois' bicentennial. The Daily Herald and dozens of publications across the state are joining forces on the series, which will continue until Illinois' 200th birthday on Dec. 3.

As the home of Sears since the late 19th century, Illinois is the birthplace of modern retail.

Even today's colossus, Amazon.com, can trace the roots of its business model to Sears' original mail-order business that popularized the notion of buying products at home without first seeing and touching them in person.

"There were some small mail-order companies before, but Sears became the largest, the most successful, the giant," said Libby Mahoney, senior curator of the Chicago History Museum.

And if it now seems strange that such a retail company would grow strong enough to make its headquarters the tallest building in the world as Sears did in Chicago in 1973, consider today's intense competition among cities to house Amazon's second headquarters, she said.

It was Chicago's central position in the nation's railroad and highway networks that made it a better place for Richard Sears to operate the mail-order watch company he'd started in Minneapolis the previous year, 1886.

In Chicago, Sears partnered with watchmaker Alvah C. Roebuck, leading to the longtime name of the firm being Sears, Roebuck and Co. Its first catalog featuring only watches and jewelry was published in 1888, while its first large catalog of general merchandise came along in 1896.

Sears wooed customers with promises of savings gained by eliminating the middleman. It popularized the money-back guarantee to build trust with the consumer, Mahoney said.

The gradual diversification of the company's products seemed to know no bounds, perhaps best illustrated by the advent of Sears Modern Homes.

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears sold about 75,000 such homes around the country by mail order. Many of the homes, which came in 447 different designs, exist today.

Such a company at that time largely depended on the U.S. Post Office for its success and reliability, Mahoney said.

But eventually, Sears, Roebuck's original mail-order business began to be threatened by the greater urbanization of the country after World War I.

The solution -- championed by then-vice president and future company President Robert E. Wood -- was the introduction of brick-and-mortar stores in the 1920s.

Many other innovations followed under Wood's guidance, including getting into the insurance business during the Great Depression with the creation of Allstate Insurance. Like several other Sears-created brands, Allstate eventually would be spun off as a completely independent company, but not until 1993.

Although Sears has never been a manufacturer, its brands such as Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances and DieHard batteries helped build the company's reputation.

Even as the biggest of all, Sears didn't take customer loyalty for granted, Mahoney said.

"They were really trying to improve the appearance of their products and make them stylish in the '30s," Mahoney said. "I think they were really savvy merchants."

The nation's economic recovery after World War II was what enabled such imitators as Kmart, Target and Kohl's, but probably not until the '70s or '80s did they start to have a significant impact on Sears' business, Mahoney said.

Even in the mail-order years, the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward was the country's distant second-place retailer, despite having started earlier.

"Sears always seemed to have the upper hand," Mahoney said.

Nevertheless, Ward's successfully carved a niche for itself by deliberately selling different products than Sears did, she said.

For the past 25 years, Sears has made its headquarters at the 780-acre Prairie Stone Business Park it created on the west side of Hoffman Estates.

Though the now-vanished Poplar Creek Music Theater was probably the first name that put Hoffman Estates on the regional map, Sears was an even bigger one, Mayor Bill McLeod said.

"When it was announced, it was a really big deal," McLeod said. "Sears was an iconic retailer. It obviously brought a lot of attention to the village. Sears made a big difference."

Among the other developments that have located around it are the Sears Centre Arena -- now home to the NBA G League's Windy City Bulls -- and the Chicago region's 185,000-square-foot Cabela's store.

The westward expansion of the village's commercial presence was followed by equivalent residential growth.

"There was very little housing on the west side of the village before Sears came," McLeod said.

Though headlines today often chronicle the company's present struggles, reminders of Sears' heyday are all around. These include the call letters of Chicago radio station WLS -- which stands for "World's Largest Store" for the four years Sears owned the station in the 1920s -- and the name of Schaumburg's massive Woodfield Mall, which honors both Robert Wood and iconic Chicago merchant Marshall Field.

But for a business based in the greater Chicago area for more than 130 years, Sears' longevity and influence are truly historic, Mahoney said.

"They've hung on longer than the stockyards," she laughed.

• Illinois 200 is produced as a project of the Illinois Press Association and the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears' latest $100 million loan again comes from CEO's firm
By Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune
January 12, 2018

Sears Holdings Corp.'s most recent cash infusion came from some of its most loyal lenders: affiliates of Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert's hedge fund, ESL Investments.

Hoffman Estates-based Sears announced Wednesday it had received a $100 million loan, but it did not disclose the source of the funds. In a regulatory filing Thursday, Sears said entities controlled by Lampert's hedge fund provided the loan, which was backed by "substantially all of the unencumbered intellectual property of the Company and its subsidiaries, other than intellectual property related to the Kenmore and DieHard brands, as well as by certain real property interests," with some exclusions.

The deal would let Sears borrow up to $200 million more from other sources using the same collateral.

Protecting the Kenmore and DieHard brands lets Sears continue seeking ways to generate more cash from its best-known and strongest brands. Sears has widened sales of both brands outside Sears stores, notably listing Kenmore and DieHard products on Amazon. Sears sold its Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker last year in a deal valued at $900 million.

The $100 million loan is the latest line of credit from Lampert and affiliates of his hedge fund, bringing the total they have lent in the past two years to more than $1.6 billion, with varying amounts outstanding at any given time.

Sears declined to comment Friday on discussions with lenders. On Wednesday the company said it is taking other steps to try to strengthen its balance sheet, including cutting an additional $200 million in costs, outside of store closures, and attempting to refinance more than $1 billion in debt.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Will Be Lucky To Make It Through 2018
By Daniel Jones
Seeking Alpha
January 11, 2018

Maybe no company in recent history has fought as hard as Sears Holdings) has in order to survive. Despite plummeting sales and massive cash outflows, the once-grand retailer continues to financially innovate in the hopes that they can make it back to profitability and survive for the long haul. New efforts particularly have caught the attention of investors, but absent a miracle, the business may not make it through this year.

Management is raising cash & pushing lenders to let up

No matter how you look at it, the past year has been especially bad for Sears (even by Sears' standards). Even after seeing shares rise 5.1% on January 10th in response to fresh news regarding its survival plans, the company's share price was still trading 77% below its 52-week high. This translates to a market capitalization of $354.05 million. In spite of this low equity value, though, management was able to raise $100 million in new financing from lenders, plus they are currently in the process of trying to get a further $200 million.

In addition to these arrangements, the retail chain is in talks with Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to get $407 million in additional first-lien debt through a credit facility, plus a further $200 million in a second-lien tranche. Assuming this comes to fruition, it will come at a cost to shareholders beyond just interest and future principal payments. As collateral, Sears is offering up 138 of its stores in what is called a "ring-fence arrangement". For lending/borrowing purposes, these 138 stores, which management said have an aggregate value of $985 million, will be broken up into a separate legal entity that will serve to close those assets off from potential bankruptcy. The retailer will still own these assets, but should a Chapter 11 filing (or similar action) take place, the lender will have first dibs on the underlying assets.

Raising additional funds isn't Sears' only hope though. While specifics have not been provided, the firm said that it is in discussions with lenders to try and change the terms of some of its debt with a value in excess of $1 billion. Management said that this could take the form of reduced interest expense, a longer duration on the debts in question, or it could be a mix of the two. One positive indicator is that the business was able to get other lenders to relax some of its covenants on a short-term basis and to increase the advance on inventories from 65% of their stated value to 75%.

The scariest of these changes, from my view, is management's agreement to ring-fence some of its assets. If done properly, the risk to the lender in question is low. This has positive attributes to it, but it also puts that lender (or lenders) in a position where they don't care about the overall health of the business. If Sears fails, they can walk away with their collateral and there should be no real threat to their assets from other parties. This doesn't carry the same level of care that typical lending arrangements would otherwise incentivize.

Performance is still horrible

In its press release, the management team at Sears said that the company's goal for this year is to return, at last, to profitability. In pursuit of that, the business claims to have identified a further $200 million (unrelated to store closures) in potential cost reductions. This is an obvious positive and it's not unreasonable to think that the business could break even or profit in 2018. After all, for the fourth quarter of 2017 the business is forecasting a net loss of between $200 million and $320 million, either of which would be a sizable improvement over the $607 million loss reported the same time a year earlier.

That said, profit isn't what Sears needs right now. Rather, what the retailer needs is positive cash flow and there is no evidence that I've seen that indicates that's likely to improve materially, if at all. In the first three quarters of 2017, for instance, the business generated negative cash flow of $1.90 billion. This compares to an outflow of $1.41 billion during the same three quarters of its 2016 fiscal year. In the three years ending in 2016, total operating cash flows totaled $4.935 billion. It was only due to net asset sales of $3.540 billion and similar separation-related activities that brought in $1.234 billion on a net basis that the business was able to survive. During tough times, profitability is a positive, but ensuring the business has the cash flow it needs to avoid or at least mitigate financing needs is significantly more important.

Even though asset sales announced over the past several months are expected to bring in cash for Sears, neither those nor cost reductions will likely help the firm on anything beyond a short-term basis. This is because of the role that comparable store sales play on the retailer. During the first two months of its fourth quarter for last year, comparable store sales at its locations fell by between 16% and 17% versus a year earlier. Adjusted for pharmacy and electronics differences, this number is between 14% and 15%. To put this in perspective, adjusted comparable store sales in the first three quarters of 2017 fell 12.8% compared to 2016. This is on top of years of declining comparable store sales and, often, when the low margin retail space is more affected on the bottom line than on the top when comaparable store sales contract.

Beyond revenue and cash flow, there's also the balance sheet Sears and its shareholders are stuck with. As of the end of its latest fiscal quarter, the retail chain had a $4.01 billion negative book value. Not only this, but its total debt stood at $4.40 billion. This reeks of insolvency and further bolsters my argument that what Sears needs most right now is cash flow. Fortunately, asset sales will help to some degree, but for as long as comparable store sales suffer these will be nothing but a short-term fix.

Takeaway

Fundamentally, there's no doubt about it. Sears is suffering and is nearing its end. If management can lock down all the financing they are striving for, the business might be able to make it into 2019, but that would probably be it. Without the financing and absent further asset sales, the firm will be hard-pressed to survive through 2018. Large cash outflows and falling performance across its stores will offset any profitability management might be able to achieve this year. Indeed, management's statement that it will consider "all other options" in an attempt to maximize shareholder value should its financing strategy fail may only be able to refer to Chapter 11 or some other highly-dilutive move.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

This Could Be the Best News Sears Holdings Has Heard in a While
By Rich Duprey
The Motley Fool
January 10, 2018

Sears Holdings can't be displeased at the struggles facing Mattress Firm, the bedding subsidiary of financially troubled Steinhoff that recently announced it was closing 200 stores.

Because Sears is trying to engineer its own turnaround by opening small-format stores dedicated solely to appliances and mattresses, news that a rival is shutting down potentially competitive outlets has to be seen as good news.

A nightmare scenario

Sears needs something to help its investors get a good night's rest, because its slide into oblivion is quickly gathering steam. And if it turns out the holiday season was really bad at Sears and Kmart stores, that could hasten the exit of suppliers who are already antsy they won't be paid for merchandise they ship.

Sears Holdings also just announced it was closing another 100 stores of its own, which probably won't be the last time we hear the retailer say it's doing so. What makes it worse, the company's plan to open up these dedicated small-format stores is dicey at best.

Even before Steinhoff acquired Mattress Firm in 2016, the bedding market was not doing well. Mattress Firm had tried to achieve economies of scale by rolling the industry up under its big blanket by acquiring the likes of Mattress Giant, Mattress Train, Sleep Experts, Mattress Liquidators, Bed Mart, Back to Bed, and Sleepy's, but it struggled to incorporate them seamlessly into its operations.

Steinhoff, which has been referred to as the "Ikea of Africa," then made a play for Mattress Firm, acquiring it in a $3.8 billion deal. It didn't take long before the wheels came off, and Steinhoff was plunged into crisis.

Tossing and turning

Last month, Steinhoff's CEO abruptly resigned amid an accounting scandal, and the company tried to reassure its lenders by telling them that although it had "limited visibility" into the cash flows of many of its subsidiaries, it was certain Mattress Firm could turn around its record of falling sales and profit margins.

Steinhoff admitted it had about 300 underperforming stores, but it had closed 90 of them already. Two hundred Mattress Firm locations are set to close in the next year and a half. Mattress Firm and Tempur Sealy had a falling out last year after negotiations between the two fell through and it was announced Sealy mattresses would no longer be sold at Mattress Firm stores.

The industry as a whole is undergoing a shift as more people buy mattresses online. Last year was largely flat for the industry in terms of sales, with units up 0.5% and dollar value rising 1%, and though 2018 is forecast to be better, retailers are still struggling with how to respond to this growing phenomenon. Whereas online sales have previously accounted for no more than 5% of sales, analysts expect that figure will have doubled last year. And it will only grow from there.

No rest for the weary

This makes Sears' getting into the bricks-and-mortar mattress business problematic. It's already acknowledged it has way too many Sears and Kmart stores, and, as noted, it has been closing hundreds of them at a time, but it now wants to compete against established players, including department stores, by opening its own chain.

That's even as online retailers begin partnering with physical store retailers to enhance their own growth prospects. Casper, for example, has a partnership with Target to display its beds in its stores that can then be ordered online, and it recently entered into an agreement with American Airlines to have its bedding products featured in flight as it tries to extend its brand from beds to linens. Similarly, Leesa Sleep has expanded its partnership with Williams-Sonoma by having items available for ordering at Pottery Barn stores as well as at West Elm stores.

One fewer bricks-and-mortar competitor has to be good news for Sears, if only for the fact that misery loves company, but it underscores the difficulties the sector is facing just as Sears wants to become a part of it, which could give investors even more sleepless nights.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Holdings Sees Narrower Net Loss In Q4; Aims Profitable FY18
By RTT News
January 10, 2018

Retailer Sears Holdings Corp. on Wednesday said it expects fourth-quarter net loss attributable to shareholders of between $320 million and $200 million, compared to a net loss of $607 million in the prior year.

Adjusted EBITDA is expected to be between a loss of $70 million and loss of $10 million, compared to loss of $61 million a year ago.

The company noted that current quarter-to-date adjusted EBITDA performance has improved over the prior year by approximately $40 million.

Sears Holdings also outlined incremental actions to further streamline its operations and deliver on its commitment to return to profitability in 2018, including cost reductions of $200 million on an annualized basis in 2018 unrelated to store closures.

Further, the company announced that it has raised $100 million in new financing and is pursuing an additional $200 million from other counterparties.

In addition, Sears Holdings has amended its existing second lien notes, maturing October 15, 2018, to increase their borrowing base advance rate for inventory and defer their collateral coverage test and restart it with the second quarter of 2018.

The company is in discussions with certain lenders regarding additional transactions to improve the terms on potentially more than $1 billion of its non-first lien debt.

Rob Riecker, Sears Holdings' Chief Financial Officer, said, "As previously announced, we are actively pursuing transactions to adjust our capital structure in order to generate liquidity and increase our financial flexibility. The new capital we have secured represents meaningful progress towards those objectives and demonstrates that we continue to have options to finance our business."

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Holdings Corp Announces Strategy to Try to Stay Afloat
By Yamil Berard
Yahoo Finance
January 10, 2018

Top officials at Sears Holdings Corp. announced today the company has raised $100 million in new financing and is trying to drum up another $200 million from additional sources.

It's all part of a strategy the company is banking on to try to stay afloat and avoid a bankruptcy filing.

The plan includes an effort to renegotiate more than $1 billion in debt and identify millions in cost savings to try to return to profitability in 2018. (The cost savings does not include an earlier announcement that it would shutter more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores nationwide.)

Chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert wrote in a blog post today: "If we successfully complete the financing transactions we are contemplating, we will materially improve the financial strength and operating focus of Sears Holdings and provide meaningful reassurance of our viability to our vendors and business partners."

Lampert says Sears will emphasize a digital initiative it calls "Shop Your Way" to try to turn a profit. It also sees optimism in its home repair program.

The company's fourth-quarter earnings report is due out in March.

Its third-quarter results, as of Nov. 30, showed declining sales for more than five years in a row.

The company's chief financial officer said today's decisions were aimed at improving the company's financial flexibility.

"The new capital we have secured represents meaningful progress towards those objectives and demonstrates that we continue to have options to finance our business," CFO Rob Riecker wrote.

Stock price

At closing on Wednesday (Jan. 10), Sears stood at $3.29 a share, up 5.11%, according to GuruFocus data.

A year ago, the stock was trading at about $8.74 a share. Within the last year, it peaked at $13.99 in April.

The company's financial strength is 3 out of 10, according to GuruFocus data. Its profitability and growth is 2 out of 10.

Other indicators show a price-sales (P/S) ratio of 0.02. Its EV-to-EBIT ratio is -5.05 and its EV-to-EBITDA ratio is -8.06.

In October, the company's shares tumbled 12% on Bruce Berkowitz's announcement that he would exit the company's board of directors. He later issued a statement saying he continued to have confidence in his investment.

Berkowitz currently owns more than 20 million shares of the company's stock, GuruFocus data shows.

At the end of November, the company posted a net loss of $558 million, or $5.19 per share, compared with a loss of $748 million, or $6.99, the year prior. The adjusted loss was $2.64 per share. Quarterly revenue of $3.7 billion declined from $5 billion in the prior-year quarter.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears looks to strengthen finances, or 'consider all other options'
By Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune
January 10, 2018

After another holiday season of steep sales declines, Sears Holdings Corp. said it is trying to refinance more than $1 billion in debt and seeking other deals to strengthen its balance sheet.

But if those steps fail, the company's board "will consider all other options to maximize the value of its assets," the Hoffman Estates-based department store chain warned Wednesday in a news release.

Sears said it has identified up to $300 million in additional financing and is planning another $200 million in cost cuts. The moves "make clear our determination to remain a viable competitor in the challenging retail environment," Sears Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert said the release.

They were also meant to help the company push back against skepticism among outsiders and win support from lenders and vendors, Lampert said in a blog post on the company website, where he touted steps the retailer had taken over the past year and a half to increase cash reserves and cut costs but acknowledged bigger changes were needed.

"While these actions have so far helped our Company survive the so-called 'Retail Apocalypse,' many observers are not persuaded that Sears Holdings can be a viable competitor in the long term," he wrote. "It is obvious that to overcome such skepticism and obtain the support of outside lenders and our vendor community - which is crucial to the success of any retailer - we need to undertake further measures."

Last week, Sears said it plans to close 103 stores, on top of 63 already closing after the holidays. Sears said Wednesday it had identified ways to save another $200 million in costs unrelated to those store closures. That's on top of $1.25 billion in costs Sears said it saved last year.

The company also said it received a $100 million loan "supported by ground leases and select intellectual property," which could be expanded by another $200 million under certain circumstances, but declined to comment further on the source of the funding or specific assets used to secure it.

In the past, Lampert and affiliates of his hedge fund have contributed, lending the company $600 million last year backed by mortgages on Sears' properties.

The retailer's shares closed at $3.29 on Wednesday, up 5 percent.

Sears' holiday sales results won't help efforts to convince skeptics. Several retailers, including Macy's, Kohl's and J.C. Penney, reported year-over-year improvements in holiday sales, citing the strong economy, confident consumers, and payoffs from investing in store and online services. Sears, however, said its sales at stores open at least a year declined 16 to 17 percent in the last two months of 2017.

Both Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Market Intelligence put Sears on short lists of chains at risk of defaulting on debts, which in Sears' case added up to $752 million due in 2018 after a pair of December transactions that paid down some debt and gave it an extension on another $400 million. In October, Sears announced it would no longer sell Whirlpool appliances, saying the company's demands made it difficult to sell its products at a competitive price.

Earlier this week, Lands' End CEO Jerome Griffith said the company, spun off from Sears in 2014, was working to become less reliant on the department store chain. The overwhelming majority of Lands' End's stores are currently inside Sears, but Lands' End plans to open six new independent stores this year, the first in Chicago this spring. Lands' End plans to have 40 to 60 in the next five years.

"It's our expectation that our Sears business at a point in time will go away and that we'll be talking directly to the consumer through our own stores," Griffith said at a conference with investors.

Sears, meanwhile, reaffirmed its goal of returning to profitability this year. The company last reported an annual profit in 2011.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Bets Against Malls Come Up Short
By Esther Fung
The Wall Street Journal
January 10, 2018

Owners refinance debt and find new tenants to fill the vacated spaces

A rash of store closures and bankruptcies last year prompted some investors to bet against debt tied to the retail property sector.

So far, at least, the bets haven't paid off.

The wager against commercial mortgage-backed securities largely has focused on the CMBX 6, a credit-default-swap index that tracks the values of bonds backed by mortgages on malls as well as office buildings and other commercial properties.

While a few slices of the index have slumped due to the perceived greater exposure to struggling mall properties and retail bankruptcies, more mall mortgage defaults would have to occur before investors get a windfall.

"Has the bet paid off? Not quite," real-estate data provider Trepp Inc. said in a recent report. So far, Trepp said, only four loans tied to the CMBX 6 incurred losses, totaling just $4.3 million. Credit default swaps are insurance like contracts that pay out when a company defaults on its debts.

Some landlords have refinanced their debt or found new tenants to take up space vacated by departing retailers. At the same time, some retailers have worked out deals with landlords that allowed the owners to keep up their mortgage payments. A positive holiday sales season also took some shine off the trade.

The owner of Holiday Village Mall in Great Falls, Mont., refinanced its loan on the property when it reached maturity last month. The landlord was able to secure new leases with Hobby Lobby and Pet Smart last year after Sears Holdings Corp. in 2014 closed its Sears store and auto center at the two-story mall.

Overall, the delinquency rate for commercial mortgage backed security loans made after the financial crisis is 0.52%, while the delinquency rate for the CMBX 6 constituency is 0.96%, according to Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

"It is higher, but a delinquency rate of less than 1% is not devastating," said Steve Kuritz, managing director at Kroll.

Some short sellers—investors who bet a company's share price will fall—anticipated that Sears Holdings would be in bankruptcy proceedings by now, which would result in a wave of store closures in malls across the country that would be tough to fill quickly.

While Sears said on Thursday that it would close an additional 103 Sears and Kmart stores in March and April on top of the 63 stores it said in November that it would close, it still has more than 900 Sears and Kmart stores in business.

Some short sellers did make money from the decline in weaker slices of the CMBX 6 last year. The portions of the index rated BB and BBB-minus declined 12.1% and 9.5%, respectively, in 2017.

Steve Pei, founder and chief investment officer at Los Angeles- based hedge fund Gratia Capital LLC, said the magnitude of the declines more than offset the 3% coupon cost of the trade, so it was profitable for his firm.

"There will be a lot more closures in the next few years in our view; the trend is pretty clear-cut even though the pace may fluctuate," Mr. Pei said. He added that his firm has taken both long and short positions- wagers that shares would rise or decline—in individual retail stocks.

Investment firm Alder Hill Management LP, which issued a 58-page report last year that described its bet on lower quality malls and how malls would struggle with mortgage repayment, remains in the trade, according to people familiar with the matter.

The report, issued in January 2017, said 26 out of roughly 40 mall loans in the index were expected to default before maturity or in 2022.

"The number of distressed retail mortgages will likely increase as they inch closer to their scheduled maturity dates and collateral performance continues to deteriorate," according to the report from Trepp.

The question is when. Landlords say they remain positive about their ability to get new tenants, pointing to retailers and entertainment operators that are still expanding.

At the Newgate Mall in Ogden, Utah, a 141,000-squarefoot Sears store is scheduled to close in coming months. The mortgage loan backing Newgate Mall is linked to the CMBX 6 index. Last year, the landlord signed leases with retailer Down East Home & Clothing, which took up space vacated by Sports Authority.

It also leased a lot on the outer edge of the mall to Fly High, a trampoline park operator. It is searching for a replacement for Sears.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Retailers Get Bump From Holiday Sales
By Imani Moise
The Wall Street Journal
January 9, 2018

After a year marked by same-store-sales declines and store closures across the sector, retailers are reporting strong sales during the critical holiday shopping period from November to December.

Kohl's Corp. said Monday comparable sales over the holidays jumped 6.9%, versus a 2.1% decline a year earlier. Shares jumped $2.54, or 4.7%, to $56.90 as the department store chain also raised its annual adjusted profit outlook.

Kohl's, helped by stronger store traffic, is the latest retailer to feel the holiday cheer. Its report comes after Macy'sInc. and J.C. Penney Co. last week reported improved sales in the holiday period, benefiting from a healthy economy and strong consumer spending.

Macy's said its same-store sales rose 1% in November and December from a year earlier, while J.C. Penney reported a 3.4% increase.

The holiday season could give Kohl's back-to-back quarters with comparable sales increases. The retailer reported a slight rise in the metric in its third quarter after more than a year of declines, citing strong back-to-school sales. Kohl's executives have said that the department store has benefited from sweeping store closures at its mall-based competitors.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Analysis: Holiday performance puts Kohl's firmly in the winner's circle
By Neil Saunders
Chain Store Age
January 8, 2018

After good updates from both Macy's and J.C. Penney, Kohl's positive sales growth comes as no surprise. However, the extent of the increase is impressive and suggests that Kohl's grew its market share over the holiday season. In our view, the 6.9% uplift in comparables puts Kohl's firmly in the winner's enclosure.

Admittedly, growth comes off the back of a weak prior year, when comparables declined by 2.1%. Despite this, we believe that Kohl's performance demonstrates that many of the initiatives undertaken over the past year are now paying off.

Among these are the improvements in the in-store offer, with the thinning out of the range and the incorporation of more branded products both helping to boost footfall and conversion rates over the holidays. Some of the more radical steps, such as allowing Amazon returns in some stores and the introduction of Amazon shop-in-shops also paid dividends.

Away from stores, digital was the star of the show and was the underpinning of Kohl's better numbers. Again, the presence of branded products helped to drive traffic to the website. Omnichannel services, like collect in store, were also highly valued by customers seeking convenience over the holiday period.

Kohl's marketing also deserves mention for the role it played over the holidays. Focusing on both the benefits for gift receivers and gift buyers (who could get Kohl's Cash) went down well and won over customers.

Like other department store groups, Kohl's has further work to do in the year ahead. However, these numbers signal it is firmly on the right track.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Why some malls may be in deeper trouble than you think
By Crain's Chicago Business
January 8, 2018

The damage inflicted on America's malls by the rise of e-commerce may be worse than it appears.

As embattled retailers announce store closures at a record pace, some tenants are shrinking their footprints more quietly by choosing not to renew expiring leases, according to a report from property-research firm Green Street Advisors. Of 2,468 in-line stores that closed in 2017-a category that excludes department stores-979 weren't announced, the report produced by the firm's advisory and consulting group shows.

"When leases expire, they just don't renew them, as opposed to breaking leases and doing something a bit more aggressive," Jim Sullivan, president of the advisory group, said in an interview.

The study examines the downsizing trends of the top 25 national retailers lining the hallways of malls across the U.S. These tenants have a bigger impact on landlords' profitability than the large anchors such as Macy's or Bloomingdale's, which typically pay minimal rents or own their stores.

"While the department stores take up a lot of space, they don't generate much revenue for the mall owner," Sullivan said. "The mall owner makes most of its money from the in-line tenants."

Even retailers that aren't outwardly struggling are constantly evaluating their options and making strategic decisions about closing stores, according to Green Street. Because in-line tenants have higher rent burdens and shorter lease terms than anchors, they are more likely to leave a center where sales are sagging, and can be better indicators of future problems at a property, the analysts wrote.

More than two-thirds of U.S. malls saw a decrease in national retailers, including chains such as Wet Seal, Bebe and Rue 21, which announced a combined 427 store closings last year, Green Street data show. Companies that closed stores without making public statements include Stride Rite, which shuttered 160 locations, and Hallmark, with 101 closures.

There are still merchants that are expanding, such as fast-fashion retailer H&M and Bolingbrook-based cosmetics chain Ulta Beauty, according to Green Street. Still, these companies are growing at a slower rate than successful retailers of the past, and are more selective about the malls they enter, the analysts wrote.

The best malls are faring relatively well when it comes to national retailers, though they haven't escaped unscathed, while the worst centers have already lost many such tenants, according to Green Street. It's the malls in the middle of the quality spectrum where the departures of in-line tenants could prove most telling, the data show.

"Those are the malls that are going to make it or get a lot worse over the next 10 years," Sullivan said.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears to Shut 100 Stores in Coming Months
By Alsha Al-Muslin
The Wall Street Journal
January 5, 2018

Sears Holdings Corp. is closing more than 100 stores in the next few months as it continues to reduce its footprint after a years long sales decline.

The 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears stores will close in March and April, the company said on Thursday. Liquidation sales will begin as early as January 12.

The company said it told associates about the store closures on Thursday. Eligible associates affected will receive severance and will be able to apply for open positions at other Kmart and Sears stores.

Sears "will continue to right size our store footprint in number and size," the company said.

In November, the company revealed plans to close 63 stores by late January, comprising 45 Kmart and 18 Sears locations. The company operated roughly 1,100 stores at the end of its quarter ended in October.

Chief Financial Officer Rob Riecker said during an earnings call in November that a reduced footprint and specialized stores selling mattresses, appliances and car services will help the struggling retailer get back on track.

Sears once dominated American retailing and helped build famous brands, including Whirlpool appliances, Craftsman tools, Schwinn bicycles and Allstate insurance.

Sears shares fell 4.8% in Thursday trading and have fallen 65% in the past year.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)

Sears Stopped Buying National TV Ads in Critical Holiday Season
By Suzanne Vranica & Suzanne Kapner
The Wall Street Journal
January 2, 2018

It is highly unusual for a retailer reliant on brick-and-mortar stores to back off TV ads during the holidays, advertising experts say

The holiday season is typically a time for retailers to blanket the airwaves with commercials. This year, one company was noticeably absent: Sears Holdings Corp.

The struggling parent of the Sears and Kmart stores hasn't run paid national television commercials since late November, according to ad research firm iSpot and a person familiar with the situation. The Kmart brand has been absent from national TV networks since Nov. 24, iSpot said, while Sears hasn't run a paid national TV spot since Nov. 25-the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.

That compares with about $8.4 million the Sears brand spent on national TV ads in December 2016, while the Kmart brand shelled out roughly $6.5 million during the period, according to iSpot estimates.

Sears Holdings Chief Executive Edward Lampert has championed the use of digital marketing over traditional TV and print advertising, arguing that digital is more cost-effective and quantifiable, according to people familiar with the situation. And at first, other Sears's executives agreed the company needed to rebalance it's marketing to focus more on digital, these people said.

But many executives have come to believe the company has gone too far and the retreat from traditional forms of advertising is hurting the business, these people said.

Sears said in a statement that it is always "evaluating the effectiveness" of it marketing channels. "This ongoing evaluation has meant we have made significant shifts over the past few years in where we've allocated our resources, including less traditional print and television, and more digital and social channels," the statement continued. It pointed to recent marketing efforts including having its Kmart brand integrated into the late-night talk show "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

For a retailer to back off TV ads during the holidays is highly unusual, ad experts said. "Retailers establish their value and relevance with consumers during key shopping times," said Dean Crutchfield, a corporate branding expert.

Indeed, retail rivals such as Macy's Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. spent tens of millions of dollars during the final month of 2017. Macy's shelled out some $32 million on national TV ads during the first 29 days of December while Penney spent roughly $27 million during the period, iSpot estimates indicate.

Struggling Toys "R" Us Inc., which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, spent about $13.3 million on TV ads during the period, according to iSpot.

Sears Holdings, of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, has been slashing expenses as it struggles to turn its business around.

Sears losses totaled $565 million for the nine months ended Oct. 28, bringing cumulative losses since 2011 to $11 billion. Revenue in the period fell 23% to $12.33 billion as the company closed stores and sold less from existing locations. As of the end of October, it operated 1,100 Sears and Kmart stores, down from 1,500 a year earlier.

In December, the retailer extended terms of a $400 million loan and announced new planned borrowings to cover pension contributions.

As its business has shrunk, Sears has scaled back spending on measured media. Sears spent $285.1 million on paid advertising in 2016, of from $664.2 million in 2011, according to estimates from Kantar Media, an ad-tracking company owned by WPP PLC; the estimates don't include some forms of digital advertising.

While Sears cut its spending on TV and newspaper ads by roughly two-thirds during the period, it ramped up spending on digital marketing. By 2016, digital had surpassed newspapers and was second only to TV in terms of Sears's spending, according to Kantar.

bloruleshort.gif (618 bytes)


Join Search Suggestions Rules
Questions regarding NARSE should be directed to
cro922@comcast.net
Copyright © National Association of Retired Sears Employees
8700 West Bryn Mawr, S-1300 South, Chicago, IL 60631-3507