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Sears Holdings Tumbles After Same-Store Sales Decline

Sales dropped 5.2 percent at the Sears chain. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg
Sales dropped 5.2 percent at the Sears chain. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

May 3 (Bloomberg) -- Sears Holdings Corp., the department-store chain majority-owned by Edward Lampert, dropped the most in almost a year in Nasdaq trading after comparable-store sales fell and the company predicted a first-quarter loss.

Sales at stores open at least a year declined 3.6 percent in the quarter ended April 30, the Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company said yesterday in a statement. The first-quarter loss will be $1.35 to $1.81, compared with the 3-cent profit predicted on average by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Lampert and Lou D’Ambrosio, who was named chief executive officer about two months ago, told shareholders today at the company’s annual meeting that Sears will expand services and technology to boost sales and understand customers better. The chain has lost customers and market share to discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. as shoppers seek to stay on budget.

“We believe these results point to the increasingly dire prospects for Sears,” Gary Balter, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said in a note to clients today. The New York-based analyst rates the shares “underperform.”

Lampert today said Sears will “reinvent” clothing this year with new brands such as the Kardashian Kollection. The company has “underleveraged” assets including brands, space in stores and services, D’Ambrosio said. Sears would be “opportunistic” about acquisitions, Lampert said.

“I think that there are a lot of companies that could be very complementary to the things we’re doing,” Lampert said.

‘Weak Performance’

Sales dropped 5.2 percent at the Sears chain and 1.6 percent at Kmart stores last quarter, according to the statement. Appliances led declines after customers took advantage of rebate programs a year earlier, Sears said.

“We could do a lot better,” Lampert said of the results.

Balter had forecast a 1 percent comparable sales decline for Kmart, and a 5.5 percent drop at Sears stores.

Sears fell $8.30, or 9.9 percent, to $75.88 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market, the biggest drop since May 20, 2010.

“We see little reason to own Sears given the state of the business and our expectation of weak performance in 2011,” Greg Melich, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group, said in a note to clients today. The New York-based analyst recommends selling the shares.

April Sales

Sears’s declines come as sales at other department stores are surging. Colin McGranahan, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, projected comparable-store sales at department stores increased 8.8 percent on average in April. Most retailers are scheduled to report sales for April on May 5.

Sales of sporting goods, jewelry and footwear increased during the last quarter, the company said.

D’Ambrosio, who took over in February, is the former CEO of telecommunications company Avaya Inc. and had worked as a consultant to the Sears board on strategy and operations, the retailer said earlier this year. He replaced W. Bruce Johnson.

The hiring of D’Ambrosio, an executive at International Business Machines Corp. for 16 years before taking charge at Avaya, is aimed at boosting technology in Sears retail operations, Lampert said earlier this year.

Sears plans to report first-quarter results May 19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Boyle in New York at Mboyle20@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at rajello@bloomberg.net

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