Sears Rallies After CEO Assures Investors He Has Comeback PlanBy , , and
Company vows to cut debt, pension burden by $1.5 billion
Sears also plans to eliminate $1 billion in annual expenses
Sears Holdings Corp. rose the most in more than two years after Chief Executive Officer Eddie Lampert vowed to fix the troubled retailer, saying he would lower its debt burden and cut annual expenses by at least $1 billion.
The cost savings will be part of a push to reduce overhead and more tightly integrate the Sears and Kmart operations, the company said on Friday. Lampert, 54, also plans to slash debt and pension obligations by $1.5 billion.
“We are initiating a fundamental restructuring of our operations,” he said in a statement. “To capture these savings, we plan to reduce our corporate overhead, more closely integrate our Sears and Kmart operations and improve our merchandising, supply chain and inventory management.”
The stock climbed as much as 40 percent to $7.75 in New York after the statement was released, marking the biggest intraday gain since November 2014. It had been down 40 percent this year through Thursday’s close, battered by concerns about Sears’s mounting losses and declining sales.
The comeback plan follows a grim stretch for Sears, which was once the largest retailer in the U.S. The Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company has racked up more than $8 billion in red ink over the past five years, and a broader department-store slump is dimming hopes of a sales rebound. Credit-default swap traders had priced in about 50-50 odds that Sears will miss a debt payment and perhaps go bankrupt before year-end.
Against that backdrop, Lampert’s turnaround efforts brought solace to investors. Sears bonds halted their slide on Friday, and the cost of insuring them against default dropped. The 6.875 percent notes that mature in October jumped 7.25 cents on the dollar to 93.25 in New York by midday, while the 6.625 percent notes due October 2018 rose 0.674 cents to 93.625, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
The upfront cost for insuring Sears debt against default through December fell to about $2 million, from $2.7 million the previous day. Before Friday’s announcement, the price almost doubled over the past month.
Still, Lampert’s latest game plan includes pieces that he previously disclosed. The $1 billion in savings includes the already-announced plan to close 108 Kmart and 42 Sears stores. The company also reported that same-store sales declined more than 10 percent in the fourth quarter, and its net loss in the period could be as high as $635 million.
Much of Friday’s plan was a “repackaging of existing information to make it sound like progress,” said Noel Hebert, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.
Sears has been selling real estate and other assets to help fund its struggling operations. Last month, the company announced it would sell its Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker Inc. for about $900 million. It also has received extra financing from Lampert himself, who is a hedge fund manager and Sears’s biggest investor.
Last month, Sears closed a $72.5 million sale of five Sears stores and two auto centers. It also hired Eastdil Secured to market at least $1 billion of its properties. The company plans to use proceeds from the Craftsman and real estate transactions to reduce its obligations.
Sears amended an asset-based credit line to provide an additional $140 million in borrowing capacity.
Moody’s Investors Service cut Sears’s credit rating deeper into junk territory last month, citing large operating losses and uncertainty about whether Sears can ever get back to break-even.
As part of the turnaround effort, Sears will analyze data to improve its product selection. It also will focus on the most profitable items, the company said. Lampert’s bid to retool Sears has hinged on a rewards program called Shop Your Way, which is designed to unify the brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores.
“The actions outlined today will reduce our overall cash funding requirements and ensure that Sears Holdings becomes a more agile and competitive retailer with a clear path toward profitability,” Lampert said.