Sears to close more stores as holiday sales slump
By Phil Wahba | Reuters – 2 hrs 19 mins ago
(Reuters) – Sears Holdings Corp will close as many as 120 of its Kmart and namesake big-box stores after sales during the peak holiday period fell sharply, and the retailer also forecast that fourth quarter earnings would fall by more than half, sending its shares plunging some 25 percent.
Adding to the share selloff, Sears also disclosed on Tuesday that it has tapped its credit facility to borrow cash.
Once one of the leading retailers with a national reach through its popular catalog along with hundreds of stores, Sears has been pressured in recent years by competitors ranging from Wal-Mart Stores to Amazon.com.
Under the stewardship of Chairman Edward Lampert, the company has let stores deteriorate, while analysts also cite poor locations and ho-hum merchandise for its ongoing decline.
“They’ve neglected this business for so long,” independent retail analyst Brian Sozzi said, noting that he expects many more closings. “They are letting Kmart and Sears die on the vine.”
Sales at Sears Holdings have fallen each year since 2005, when it was formed in a merger of Sears and Kmart.
So far this holiday buying season, the drop has continued.
Same-store sales at Kmart were down 4.4 percent in the eight weeks that ended Christmas Day, and down 6 percent at Sears’ U.S. stores. Overall, they were down 5.2 percent.
The closings follow its announcement last quarter it would shut 10 stores. Kmart and Sears have a combined 2,177 big-box locations.
A list of stores affected will be available at http://www.searsmedia.com once the retailer decides on the locations.
The declines at Kmart were led by drops in electronics and clothing sales as the low-price chain faced stiff competition from Wal-Mart, which resumed its layaway program this holiday season after five years.
Sears blamed poor consumer electronics sales in a tough economic environment “especially for big-ticket items” for more than half of the decline in its namesake chain’s domestic same-store sales.
Two weeks ago, Best Buy Co Inc said that offering bigger discounts to kick-start the holiday season ate into its profits.
Sears’ shares were down $11.46, or 25 percent, at $34.40 in early afternoon trading, and have fallen 63.1 percent since hitting a yearly high in February.
At the current stock price, Sears Holdings — home to brands including Craftsman tools and Kenmore appliances — has a value of $3.7 billion, compared with the $11 billion Lampert agreed to pay for the company in 2004. As of September 30, his holding company owned 45.1 percent of Sears Holdings.
The drop in shares is also a big blow for fund manager Bruce Berkowitz’s Fairholme Capital, Sears’ second-biggest shareholder with 15.2 percent of shares.
Sears’ travails also hit shares of Whirlpool Corp, which last year got 8 percent of sales through the retailer. Whirlpool shares fell 7.1 percent to $47.56.
FALLING FURTHER BEHIND
Normally, Sears would give “marginally performing” stores time to improve, but “we no longer believe that to be the appropriate action in this environment.”
Sozzi, the analyst, went to a Sears in Bayshore, New York, on Monday, one of the busiest days of the retail season, and said it was “deserted.” At the northern end of the state, in Plattsburgh, a Sears was similarly quiet.
Wall Street analysts have long faulted Sears for letting its stores become stale, even as rivals ranging from Macy’s Inc, J.C. Penney Co Inc to Target Corp and Wal-Mart remodel and refresh their stores, drawing in customers.
Last fiscal year, Macy’s spent $505 million to improve its namesake and Bloomingdale’s stores, while Sears spent $441 million despite having more than three times as many stores.
Sears is “effectively asking customers to pay for a poorer shopping environment” than other chains, Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter said in a note to clients.
Balter was also surprised that Sears would borrow money during the holidays, which are typically a peak cash flow period. Sears had $483 million of borrowings outstanding as of December 23, compared with zero a year earlier.
As of October 29, Sears had cash and cash equivalents of $624 million, down from $790 million.
Sears Holdings said the lower sales and margin pressure would lead to adjusted fourth-quarter earnings before interest, debt and amortization of less than half of the year-ago quarter’s $933 million figure.
Last month, Sears reported a much wider-than-expected quarterly loss as higher markdowns and pricing pressures in appliances squeezed margins.
The retailer expects to earn $140 million to $170 million by selling of inventory in affected stores and selling or subleasing store space.
Sears also expects to record a non-cash charge of $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion in the fourth quarter related to a valuation allowance on certain deferred tax assets.