Sears Jumps After Posting First Quarterly Profit Since 2015

  • Retailer has been closing stores and selling assets for cash
  • Sears remains ‘in a tough spot from pretty much every angle’

Sears Filing Sparks Concern That the End Is Near

Sears Holdings Corp. rallied after posting its first quarterly profit since 2015, bringing a ray of optimism to a retail chain struggling to regain its relevance.

First-quarter net income amounted to $244 million, compared with a loss of $471 million a year earlier. The gain reflects efforts by Chief Executive Officer Eddie Lampert to sell assets and raise cash. But its main business -- running the Sears and Kmart department stores -- still struggled in the latest quarter: When excluding one-time items, the company posted a loss.

Investors took the results as a sign that Lampert’s turnaround bid is making some headway. The 54-year-old hedge fund manager, who is also Sears’s largest investor, has scrambled to wring money from the sprawling chain’s real estate and close stores. On Tuesday, the company made a deal that pushed the due date for $400 million in debt from July to January. It also offloaded some of its pension obligations.

“While this was certainly a challenging quarter for our company, it was also one that clearly demonstrated our commitment to return Sears Holdings to solid financial footing,” Lampert said in a statement. “We recognize that we need to accelerate our efforts to improve our operational performance.”

The stock climbed as much as 27 percent to $9.45 in New York trading, the biggest intraday gain since Feb. 10. The rally followed a 20 percent decline this year.

Sears’s sales remain in a dire state. Revenue fell 20 percent to $4.3 billion in the latest period. And when earnings were adjusted for one-time items, the company posted a loss of $230 million, wider than the $199 million reported a year earlier.

Much of the revenue decline stemmed from Sears operating fewer stores. But the company also posted a comparable-store sales decline of 12 percent -- roughly twice as large as in the year-ago quarter. These so-called comp sales are a closely watched measure because they exclude stores that opened or closed in the previous year.

‘Tough Spot’

With a shrinking store base and less advertising, Sears remains in a worse position than it was a year ago, said Matt McGinley, an analyst at Evercore ISI.

“Sears continues to be less relevant with potential customers, vendors and landlords,” McGinley said. “They’re in a really tough spot from pretty much every angle.”

Despite Sears’s rally, McGinley said he doesn’t see much cause for optimism in the current results. He pointed to the almost $900 million in cash used for operating activities in the quarter, more than in the year-ago period.

“The pace of revenue decline is accelerating, so hope for an operational turnaround seems farther away than ever,” he said. “Sears is stuck in this shrink-to-survive mode, where external liquidity or asset sales are required to offset the operating losses.”

The first-quarter net income was the first profit since the second quarter of 2015, when the creation of a real estate investment trust generated about $2.7 billion for Sears.

Lampert has injected more than $1 billion in financing to bolster Sears. Over the years, he’s sold or spun off assets to raise cash, including its Craftsman tool brand and Lands’ End clothing business. He’s also shuttered hundreds of stores.

Last month, Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Sears raised its annual cost-cutting target by 25 percent, to $1.25 billion. It also forecast a first-quarter adjusted loss before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of $190 million to $230 million.

In a blog posted on Thursday, Sears made a case for its continued relevance. The company pointed to its status as the largest home-services provider, along with its millions of customers.

“Sears and Kmart continue to be two of the country’s most iconic retailers,” the company said.

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