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Here’s A List Of The 80 New Store Closures Sears Has Announced (#Gotbitcoin?)

Here’s A List Of The 80 New Store Closures Sears Has Announced (#Gotbitcoin?)

Sears, which is struggling to stay alive, announced more stores will shutter.

Time could be running out for Sears Holding Corp., but in the meantime the bankrupt retailer continues to announce store closures.

Sears will shutter 80 stores by late March 2019, with liquidation sales starting in two weeks. Accompanying Sears Auto Center locations will be closing as well. Here’s A List Of The 80 New Store Closures Sears Has Announced

Sears’ fate is in the hands of its Chief Executive Eddie Lampert, who may only have until Friday at 4 p.m. to make his $4.6 billion proposal to save the retail icon official.

Here’s A List Of The 80 New Store Closures Sears Has Announced (#Gotbitcoin?)

Sears filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 15.

Sears Holding includes the namesake chain and Kmart.

Sears announced 40 store closures in early November, with the closures expected to be complete by Feb. 2019.

Here’s A List Of The 80 New Store Closures Sears Has Announced (#Gotbitcoin?)

CEO Lampert To Bid For Sears Real Estate If Rescue Attempt Fails

Sears, An American Retail Staple Since 1886, Has Been Struggling In Recent Years, Closing Stores,
Selling Off Assets And Borrowing Money. But It Wasn’t Always This Way.
Gordon Weil, Author Of
“Sears, Roebuck, USA,” Looks Back On The History Of The Retailer.

The billionaire’s hedge fund last week made a $4.4 billion bid to carve out a chunk of Sears’ stores and keep them open.

Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc., is interested in scooping up Sears HoldingsCorp.’s real estate for $1.8 billion, as well as some other assets, if its offer to buy the company out of bankruptcy as a going concern fails, Sears disclosed in a filing.

The billionaire’s hedge fund, which had controlled Sears, last week made a $4.4 billion bid to carve out a chunk of Sears stores and keep them open. At the same time two teams of liquidation firms submitted competing bids to liquidate all of Sears and sell off the pieces, according to people familiar with the matter.

If ESL’s bid to keep 425 Sears stores open doesn’t succeed, the hedge fund plans to make a $1.8 billion offer for the company’s real estate, according to the filing on Wednesday.

Sears and its independent board members have to determine by Friday if ESL’s bid is “qualified” under the sale procedures approved by the bankruptcy court.

If the bid passes muster, Sears and its independent board members will then have to determine if the ESL offer is a better outcome for the company and its creditors than either of the offers from liquidators.

A preliminary version of ESL’s offer for Sears made in early December came under fire from the company’s unsecured creditors because it releases Mr. Lampert and others from future lawsuits related to their oversight of Sears before its bankruptcy filing.

“The issue I think that the company and creditors may have with Lampert’s bid is that it is conditioned on the company releasing litigation claims against him and his hedge funds,” said Jeff Marwil, partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, which isn’t involved in the Sears bankruptcy case.

The unsecured creditors also object to the so-called credit bid that is part of ESL’s offer.

A portion—approximately $1.3 billion—of the hedge fund’s $4.4 billion offer is in the form of a “credit bid” consisting of real-estate-backed loans that ESL made to Sears, according to a Sears filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.

“As we previously said, we believe that our going concern bid provides the best path forward for the company,” said a spokesman for ESL, who also said it was “the best option to save tens of thousands of jobs and is superior for all of Sears’ stakeholders to the alternative of a complete liquidation.”

The ESL spokesman also said, “We will continue to believe in Sears.”

ESL’s “alternative proposal” includes a bid for Sears real estate as well as $25 million for Sears Home Services and a $150 million credit bid for certain intellectual property, including the Sears name, according to the Sears filing. ESL’s offer for different parts of Sears in a liquidation would be “significantly less than we have submitted in our going concern proposal,” the hedge fund said in its offer to Sears.

Liquidation firms Tiger Capital Group LLC and Great American Group LLC teamed up to place a liquidation bid, with the option of joining with other liquidation firms, people familiar with the matter said. Meanwhile, Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC and Hilco Global Merchant Resources LLC joined forces in another bid, the people said.

Sears and representatives for its unsecured creditors committee didn’t return calls.

Sears Shares Have Sunk 95.3% In 2018

Here’s a complete list of the 80 latest closures.

Format Address City State

Kmart 7055 East Broadway Tucson AZ
Kmart 2180 E Mariposa Rd Stockton CA
Kmart 20777 Bear Valley Rd Apple Valley CA
Kmart 1000 San Fernando Rd Burbank CA
Kmart 2875 Santa Maria Way Santa Maria CA
Kmart 2505 Bell Rd Auburn CA
Kmart 295 Hartford Turnpike Vernon CT
Kmart 200 Irwin Ne Fort Walton Beach FL
Kmart 6126 Hwy 301 Ellenton FL
Kmart 11 Sherwood Square Peru IN
Kmart 2940 Veterans Blvd Metairie LA
Kmart 8980 Waltham Woods Rd Baltimore MD
Kmart 201 Ninth St S E Rochester MN
Kmart 155 Twin City Mall Crystal City MO
Kmart 12057 Highway 49 Delmar Plaza Gulfport MS
Kmart 980 Brevard Rd Asheville NC
Kmart 110 112 Bost Rd Morganton NC
Kmart 4841 Arendell St Morehead City NC
Kmart 1900 S Washington St Grand Forks ND
Kmart 1515 W 3rd St Alliance NE
Kmart 213 Highway 37 E Toms River NJ
Kmart 1705 S Main St Roswell NM
Kmart 308 Dix Avenue Queensbury NY
Kmart 1020 Center Street Grand Central Plaza Horseheads NY
Kmart 121 Bolivar Road Wellsville NY
Kmart 1251 State Rte 29 Ste 1O Greenwich Plaza Greenwich NY
Kmart 7701 Broadview Road Cleveland OH
Kmart 620 Plaza Dr Fostoria OH
Kmart 400 N East Circle Blvd Corvallis OR
Kmart 996 West View Park Drive Pittsburgh PA
Kmart 2873 W 26Th Street Erie PA
Kmart 1143 Broad St Sumter SC
Kmart 1111 E North St Rapid City SD
Kmart 1805 E Stone Dr Kingsport TN
Kmart 217 Forks Of River Pkwy Sevierville TN
Kmart 4110 E Sprague Ave Spokane WA
Kmart 1450 Summit Avenue Oconomowoc WI
Sears* 2050 Southgate Rd Colorado Springs CO
Sears* 1650 Briargate Blvd Colorado Springs CO
Sears* 3201 Dillon Dr Pueblo CO
Sears 1700 W Intl Speedway Blvd Daytona Beach FL
Sears* 1500 Apalachee Pkwy Tallahassee FL
Sears* 347 Westshore Plz Tampa FL
Sears* 1441 Tamiami Trl Pt Charlotte FL
Sears* 9409 Us Highway 19 N Ste 101 Port Richey FL
Sears* 150 Pearl Nix Pkwy Gainesville GA
Sears* 4480 Sergeant Rd Sioux City IA
Sears* 235 Saint Clair Sq Fairview Heights IL
Sears* 7200 Harrison Ave Cherry Valley IL
Sears* 7700 E Kellogg Dr Wichita KS
Sears 4400 Veterans Mem Blvd Metairie LA
Sears* 2306 N Salisbury Blvd Salisbury MD
Sears* 5500 Harvey St Muskegon MI
Sears 27600 Novi Rd Novi MI
Sears 2000 N E Court Bloomington MN
Sears* 1620 Guess Rd Durham NC
Sears* The Streets Of Southpoint Durham NC
Sears* 7424 Dodge St Omaha NE
Sears* 6400 O St Lincoln NE
Sears* 3450 S Maryland Pkwy Las Vegas NV
Sears* 10 Miracle Mile Dr Rochester NY
Sears 5053 Tuttle Crossing Blvd Columbus OH
Sears* 1400 Polaris Pkwy Columbus OH
Sears* 1475 Upper Valley Pike Springfield OH
Sears* 501 Medford Ctr Medford OR
Sears* 200 Park City Ctr Lancaster PA
Sears* 5256 Route 30 Greensburg PA
Sears* 5580 Goods Lane Ste 1005 Altoona PA
Sears 1000 Rivergate Pkwy Goodlettsvlle TN
Sears 2021 N Highland Ave Jackson TN
Sears* 201 S Plano Rd Richardson TX
Sears* 4310 Buffalo Gap Rd Abilene TX
Sears* 851 N Central Expwy Plano TX
Sears* 6001 W Waco Dr Waco TX
Sears* 7701 1-40 W Ste 400 Amarillo TX
Sears* 2100 S W S Young Dr Killeen TX
Sears 3100 Highway 365 Port Arthur TX
Sears* 1531 Rio Rd E Charlottesville VA
Sears* 1321 N Columbia Center Blvd Suite 455 Kennewick WA
Sears 4301 W Wisconsin Ave Appleton WI


*Marks a Sears Auto Center closing in late January

Eddie Lampert Submits Revised Bid Of Roughly $5 Billion In Last-Ditch Effort To Save Sears From Liquidation

  • This latest attempt comes one day after Lampert’s initial $4.4 billion bid to save Sears was rejected by the company.
  • As part of the new bid, Lampert will assume tax and vendor bills incurred since Sears’ October bankruptcy, a person familiar with the matter said. As with its previous bid, it will aim to keep roughly 50,000 jobs.
  • Should Sears accept the bid as financially viable, it will allow ESL to participate in an auction set for Jan. 14 against other buyers. Lampert’s bid is the only one that would keep Sears alive.

Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert has submitted a revised bid of roughly $5 billion in a last-ditch attempt to save the retailer from liquidation, according to a person familiar with the matter.

This latest attempt comes one day after Lampert’s initial $4.4 billion bid to save Sears was rejected by the company. It faced a number of challenges, including being short of covering Sears’ administrative expenses, making it “administratively insolvent.”

As part of the new bid, Lampert will assume tax and vendor bills incurred since Sears’ October bankruptcy, the person said. As with its previous bid, it will aim to keep roughly 50,000 jobs.

It could not be immediately determined whether Lampert’s bid also relies on the forgiveness of debt through a so-called “credit bid.” Sears unsecured creditors objected to the $1.8-billion credit bid that helped support Lampert’s original offer.

Should Sears accept the bid as financially viable, it will allow ESL to participate in an auction set for Jan. 14 against other buyers. Lampert’s bid is the only one that would keep Sears alive.

Sears’ advisors told the bankruptcy court on Tuesday it will evaluate the merits of the credit bid during the Monday auction.

Ultimately, any offer will need to be approved by the bankruptcy court in a hearing scheduled for Jan. 31. The bankruptcy judge therefore will also have to eventually sign off on a credit bid, should Lampert rely on one.

Lampert on Friday also submitted a $120-million deposit required of him by the bankruptcy court to submit his bid.

Sears did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for ESL declined to comment.

Sears To Stay Open, After Edward Lampert Prevails in Bankruptcy Auction

Billionaire avoids liquidation, but can a Sears shrunken down to about 400 stores survive?

Billionaire Edward Lampert won a bankruptcy auction for Sears Holdings Corp., keeping the struggling department store chain from shutting all its remaining stores, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Lampert, a hedge-fund manager who steered Sears into bankruptcy, prevailed by sweetening his offer to about $5.3 billion from $4.4 billion over several weeks of negotiations with Sears’s board and creditors, the people said.

His last-ditch rescue plan would keep roughly 400 stores open. The offer beat out a bid, which was supported by most Sears creditors and landlords, by Abacus Advisory Group LLC to close all the stores and sell the inventory. Reuters earlier reported Mr. Lampert had prevailed.

Sears’s longtime leader, who is also its largest creditor and biggest shareholder, has scrambled to retain control of the company since it filed for protection from creditors in October. He stepped down as chief executive at the time but remained chairman.

The rescue plan must be approved by the bankruptcy judge at a sale hearing set for Feb. 1 in White Plains, N.Y.. Judge Robert Drain, who is overseeing the case, had pressed Mr. Lampert to reach a deal to keep some stores open and save thousands of jobs, one person said. Some creditors still object to Mr. Lampert’s plans and prefer a total liquidation, this person added.

With more than $7 billion in assets when it filed for chapter 11, Sears is one of the biggest in a string of recent U.S. retail bankruptcies. The company, which also runs the Kmart chain, has already closed about 200 of the roughly 700 stores it had when it filed for protection.

The agreement, reached in early-morning hours Wednesday, capped a tense day of negotiations. By 11 p.m. Mr. Lampert’s offer appeared dead, the people said.

The two sides, huddling in neighboring conference rooms at the New York law office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, continued talking until about 2 a.m., when Mr. Lampert raised his offer by $150 million, cinching the deal, the people said.

One of the issues complicating the negotiations is that Sears continues to burn through cash at a rapid rate, one of the people said.

The deal releases Mr. Lampert and others from liability over future lawsuits related to a series of spinoffs that creditors said might have siphoned valuable assets away from the company, the people said. Mr. Lampert has repeatedly denied those accusations.

The agreement also includes about $1.3 billion in debt forgiveness to Mr. Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc., which had raised further objections from creditors.

The 126-year-old Sears was once the dominant retailer in America. It will emerge, though, from bankruptcy as a shadow of its former self, making it difficult to compete against healthier chains with thousands of locations apiece—such as Walmart Inc. and Home Depot Inc. —as well as with the omnipresent Amazon.com Inc.

“I don’t know what’s left to shop there for,” said Patrick Garrett, a retired consultant. Ever since the Sears near his home in Calabasas, Calif., closed in November, he has visited Lowe’s Co s. for Craftsman tools, Best Buy Co. for appliances and J.C. Penney Co. for clothes. “I’d have to drive 40 miles to get to the nearest Sears now,” the 70-year-old said.

Retailing has become a game of scale to cover the fixed costs of operating stores, warehouses, e-commerce sites and a supply chain that knits them all together. Sears, by contrast, has been shrinking for years by closing stores and shedding businesses and brands, including the Lands’ End Inc. clothing brand and Craftsman tools.

“To the extent Sears reorganizes around a much smaller store base, major hurdles to its long-term business will remain,” said Christina Boni, an analyst at credit-rating firm Moody’s. “Scale, which is critical to competing in retail today, will be lacking, and its core customer proposition still remains in question.”

At its peak in 2006, a year after Mr. Lampert took control by merging Kmart and Sears, the company operated more than 2,300 stores. In October, it entered court protection with fewer than 700 locations and had racked up seven years of losses. Annual sales had shriveled to $16.7 billion, down from $49 billion in 2005.

At the time of the Kmart merger, Mr. Lampert was a Wall Street hotshot who was often compared with legendary investor Warren Buffett. The downfall of Sears hasn’t only damaged the company’s reputation, but Mr. Lampert’s as well.

Now, he has what might be his final chance to prove that his contrarian strategy is the right one. He has long argued that as retailing moves online, chains need fewer big-box stores. His mantra for Sears is to turn it into an “asset-light” company.

Yet, there are few precedents of big retailers shrinking their way to prosperity. A rare exception is Federated Department Stores Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection in 1990 as part of Campeau Corp., emerged and went on to swallow up rivals to become the current Macy’s Inc.

“Sears is so far below critical mass,” said Steve Dennis, a consultant and former Sears executive, who left the company before Mr. Lampert took control. “What is it about having fewer stores—which doesn’t allow you to spend as much on marketing or have supply-chain efficiencies—that suddenly makes it a successful strategy?”

In recent years, chains such as Toys ’R’ Us Inc., Sports Authority Inc., Bon-Ton Stores Inc. and RadioShack disappeared after filing for bankruptcy protection. Others such as Mattress Firm Inc. and Payless ShoeSource have re-emerged from bankruptcy after shedding debts and shutting hundreds of stores.

Mr. Lampert also is buying the Kenmore and DieHard brands, the company’s Sears Auto Centers and its Home Services business, along with inventory, intellectual property and other assets. The rescue plan will save as many as 50,000 jobs.

“Our proposed business plan envisages significant strategic initiatives and investments in a right-sized network of large format and small retail stores, digital assets and interdependent operating businesses,” Mr. Lampert wrote in a Dec. 28 letter to Sears’s financial advisers. “We believe that our strategy will enable Sears to prosper in an integrated consumer and retail landscape.”

The hedge-fund manager raised his offer by $600 million last week to about $5 billion. The revised offer included no new cash but promised to assume liabilities that could drive the retailer further into debt. It also included an additional 57 real-estate properties as well as accounts receivable and inventory.

Not everyone views Sears as a lost cause. Some of its surviving stores are in healthy malls, and other locations in rural areas are facing less competition as rivals have closed stores or gone out of business. But big changes need to happen to make Sears viable, analysts say.

“We think there is a path for them to survive, but they’ve got to dump apparel and devote the whole store to hard lines,” said Craig Johnson, the president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. “Sears still has a lot of credibility in appliances, and they can rebuild that business.”

Former executives say that idea was considered years ago but deemed unfeasible, because consumers purchase big-ticket items such as appliances too infrequently. It would also be dependent on Sears’s ability to reduce the size of its stores, something it has been trying to do by leasing excess space to grocery stores and competing retail chains.

A blueprint for the company’s future could lie with a remodeled store in Oak Brook, Ill., that opened in October. At 62,000 square feet, it is about one-third of its original size. The shrunken store no longer sells consumer electronics and jewelry, although most other product categories are available.

Perhaps a bigger stumbling block to Sears is Mr. Lampert himself. Although he has poured money into the company through short-term loans and said he has tried to do everything to keep it afloat, his contrarian approach to running the retailer—including a reticence to upgrade stores without the promise of a return on that investment—has proven disastrous.

“Any model with Eddie involved is a no-go,” Mr. Johnson said.

Creditors Say Edward Lampert Reaped Billions But Left Sears Insolvent

Sears’s creditors outline how the billionaire’s hedge fund profited from stock buybacks, spinoffs and interest charges.

Sears Holdings Corp. Chairman Edward Lampert and his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc. deployed stock buybacks, spinoffs and dividends to rake in billions of dollars while stripping the 126-year-old company of assets and cash, according to an investigation by the retailer’s creditors.

In a court filing challenging the planned sale of Sears to Mr. Lampert, the official committee of unsecured creditors tracked what it claims was a deliberate strategy that began in 2005, shortly after the billionaire took charge of what was then a profitable company. They allege he spun out businesses and collected dividends; he made loans and collected interest and fees on them. Creditors want court permission to sue Mr. Lampert and his hedge fund.

Sears spent most of its cash—$6 billion—on share buybacks instead of investing in stores, the committee said. Once the cash was depleted, Sears began spinning off businesses, and finally, started borrowing from ESL. The spinoffs of Sears Hometown, Sears Canada , Lands’ End and Seritage added more than $4 billion to Sears’s coffers, the company’s annual reports show.

In just the past five years, ESL has walked away with at least $700 million in dividends, fees and interest on loans that the hedge fund made to Sears, creditors said in a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, N.Y.

Mr. Lampert still owns valuable stakes in companies built on Sears’s real estates and businesses. Sears’s shareholders, meanwhile, have seen their stockholdings plunge.

Mr. Lampert has repeatedly denied accusations that he steered Sears into ruin for his own benefit. When he made money selling off the company’s real estate and businesses, so did other shareholders, he said. An ESL spokesman on Thursday said the committee’s statements “are misleading or just flat wrong.” The spokesman also referred to previous comments describing the deals as fair and beneficial to all Sears stakeholders: the “processes we followed are unimpeachable.”

Mr. Lampert is set to ask a bankruptcy judge on Feb. 4 to sign off on the $5.2 billion deal that gives him more than 400 stores in exchange for a series of agreements to absorb some of Sears’s bills, including $1.3 billion that he says the company owes him. Key to the buyout is a settlement in which Sears agreed not to challenge his right to bid with debt instead of cash. Mr. Lampert agreed to pay $35 million for that settlement, which averts any risk that the company will challenge the validity of the $1.3 billion loan from Lampert affiliates to Sears.

Lawyers for creditors, meanwhile, want to proceed with a suit attacking the validity of Mr. Lampert’s loans. They say Sears was in such bad financial shape that those loans should be characterized as capital contributions, and written off, instead of repaid. Such a suit is worth more than the $35 million settlement, they said.

Mr. Lampert has directed the company to spin off its best assets over the past seven years to shareholders—the biggest of which was ESL itself—and those spinoffs provided “substantial profits” to ESL, creditors claim in court papers.

The hedge fund also made money on Sears through stock buybacks, according to creditors, which also enriched other shareholders. Instead of investing in its stores, Sears spent most of its cash on hand on buybacks, the committee said. The buybacks boosted Sears’s share price, making Mr. Lampert’s holdings more valuable, while also entitling ESL to collect higher fees from its hedge-fund investors, according to the committee’s complaint.

Once Sears was drained of cash, it was ripe for asset-stripping, creditors contend.

Sears got less than it should have for valuable businesses—from the Lands’ End apparel and home-goods unit to Sears Canada to some of its most valuable real estate—the complaint says. Creditors say ESL paid little or nothing for stakes in businesses that boomed in value.

ESL became the majority shareholder of Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores, for example, after a rights offering in 2012 that was allegedly priced low. On the first day of trading, the share price doubled and ESL chalked up a one-day profit of $226.5 million, court papers say.

A month after that, the partial spinoff of Sears Canada Inc. brought $160 million in dividends to ESL. After Sears Canada landed in bankruptcy in 2017, a court-appointed monitor found in November 2018 that ESL pressured Sears Canada into making dividend payments because the hedge fund needed the money.

The 2014 spinoff of Lands’ End gave ESL a stake at no cost that was soon worth $852 million, the creditors say.

In each case, Sears’ rationale for the spinoffs was the need to raise capital because the retailer was running low on cash.

By 2014, with Sears’ liquidity issues becoming more acute, the retailer’s most valuable real estate was spun out to Seritage Growth Properties , a company controlled by Mr. Lampert.

Within a year after Seritage’s creation, Sears’s stock swooned while Seritage shares doubled in value. Almost all of Sears’s shareholders bought into the Seritage rights offering and profited along with ESL, a spokesman for ESL has noted in an earlier statement. Seritage shares rose 33% within six months of the rights offering, and is currently trading at about the same level.

Headed toward a hearing where Sears and Mr. Lampert are likely to argue that the deal must go through to save the retailer and the 45,000 jobs that remain, creditors urged skepticism. There still is no plan to rescue Sears, they said.

“Lampert and ESL have painted themselves as saviors, stating that their bid will save the few jobs they have not already eliminated—but for how long?” creditors asked.

Meanwhile…

J.C. Penney Struggles to Avoid Same Fate as Sears

Struggling retailer grapples with declining sales and executive vacancies; ‘a broken business’.

J.C. Penney Co.’s JCP -2.22% sales are falling, its stores are stuck in malls and the turnaround strategy keeps changing. Now, three months after the embattled retailer hired a new chief executive, a handful of senior positions remain vacant.

The series of events is prompting analysts and other industry experts to question whether Penney can avoid the fate of fellow department-store operator Sears Holdings Corp., which filed for bankruptcy and barely staved off liquidation.

“Penney is a broken business,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. “They are looking at a very problematic 2019. It’s the mistakes of the past coming home to roost.”

The Plano, Texas-based chain was once the go-to apparel retailer for middle-class families. It and Sears had once dominated American retailing but lost their customers, first to discounters like Walmart , then to fast-fashion retailers and off-price chains like T.J. Maxx. The shift to online shopping hastened their decline.

A strengthening economy brought Penney’s problems into sharper focus. It scaled back discounts and private brands, and focused on appliances at the expense of apparel. At a time when consumers have been spending, Penney posted a 3.5% decline in holiday sales and said it would close more stores, following a string of weak results.

Last week, Fitch Ratings Inc. downgraded its debt one notch closer to junk. One of Penney’s most actively traded bonds, the 6.375% notes due 2036, were trading last week at 37 cents on the dollar, down from 69 cents in March, according to MarketAxess. Penney’s shares, which soared as high as $80 during the recession, now change hands at just over a dollar.

A Penney spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.

Penney’s new CEO, Jill Soltau, joined the company late last year after Marvin Ellison left abruptly to take a new job running Lowe’s Co s. Last week, Penney disclosed it has failed to restock any of the other open positions in its executive ranks. Penney said it is searching for a chief merchant, chief customer officer and head of planning and allocation. Its principal accounting officer will leave March 31, and it is looking for a successor to its chief financial officer who left in October.

“There is uncertainty around the company’s strategy given the changes in the top ranks,” said Monica Aggarwal, a Fitch managing director. “We need more clarity in terms of how they plan to position themselves.”

Ms. Soltau, previously chief of fabric-and-craft retailer Jo-Ann Stores Inc., told analysts on a November conference call she was still formulating her strategy. Last week, Penney said it has hired a McKinsey & Co. consultant as its chief transformation officer to develop and implement strategic changes.

It isn’t clear whether Ms. Soltau will stick with the plan to bring back appliances, put in place by her predecessor. Penney had stopped selling such products in 1983 but returned to it in 2016 in an effort to take share from an ailing Sears, which had closed hundreds of stores before filing for court protection.

While analysts say Penney’s appliance strategy has been moderately successful, the bulk of its sales still come from apparel—an area the company has neglected as it focused on other priorities.

Adding to Penney’s problems is $4.3 billion in debt, the result of a failed overhaul by former Apple Inc. executive Ron Johnson, who scaled back discounts and popular house brands. Penney brought back a former CEO, Mike Ullman, to replace Mr. Johnson in 2013; Mr. Ullman handed the reins to Mr. Ellison, a former Home Depot Inc. and Target Corp. executive, in 2015.

Mr. Ellison was in the top job for barely three years before he decamped to Lowe’s in May, taking with him Penney’s chief customer officer, Joe McFarland. While at Penney, Mr. Ellison had eliminated the chief merchant job, saying a “simplified structure offers greater flexibility.” Ms. Soltau wants to reinstate the position, a crucial role at most retailers that helps set the fashion sensibility.

Fitch’s Ms. Aggarwal said Penney has some breathing room. While the company has about $50 million in debt coming due in 2019, she expects it to have $1.5 billion in cash and borrowing availability by year-end.

Still, the latest holiday season brought worrying signs. Sears, which is Penney’s closest competitor, filed for bankruptcy protection in October, and on Thursday reached a deal that would allow it to emerge from court protection in a shrunken form. Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. barely grew sales during the holiday period.

“There is a risk that if you change your position so regularly, customers don’t know what you stand for anymore,” said Alan Treadgold, global head of retail strategy at PA Consulting Group. “Penney has some serious challenges to overcome, and gaps in the senior leadership aren’t helpful to the changes they have to make.”

U.S. Federal Pension Insurer Backs Eddie Lampert’s Bid To Buy Sears

Deal with PBGC clears a big hurdle in Sears chairman’s quest to buy hundreds of stores out of bankruptcy

Sears Holdings Corp . Chairman Eddie Lampert won the support of the U.S. government’s pension insurer for his $5 billion buyout proposal, a critical vote in his favor as he vies with other creditors who want Sears liquidated.

Sears lawyer Ray Schrock told a bankruptcy judge Thursday that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. had resolved its $1.7 billion claim against the company and would back Mr. Lampert’s proposal to buy hundreds of stores out of bankruptcy.

“This settlement is phenomenal,” Mr. Schrock said in a court hearing at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, N.Y., where Judge Robert Drain is weighing arguments for and against Mr. Lampert’s offer.

Lower-ranking creditors are challenging Mr. Lampert’s offer, which is the only one on the table that allows for the best-performing Sears and Kmart stores to stay in business, but a major obstacle was opposition from the PBGC, the largest single unsecured creditor of Sears.

The PBGC, a government-run backstop that pays benefits when plan sponsors can’t, will receive an unsecured $800 million from the Sears bankruptcy estate, Mr. Schrock said. He said the insurer would also get up to $80 million in proceeds from potential claims against Mr. Lampert’s hedge fund ESL Investments Inc. surrounding its dealings with Sears.

The settlement, which requires court approval, calls for the PBGC to withdraw its objection to the sale of Sears’s assets to Mr. Lampert’s hedge fund. It also clears the way for PBGC to assume responsibility for the retailer’s two pension plans, a PBGC spokesman said Thursday.

Less than two weeks ago, the PBGC had slammed Mr. Lampert’s bid, accusing him of attempting to seize control of valuable trademarks that were earmarked before the bankruptcy to close the pension funding gap.

As the federal backstop for private retirement plans, the PBGC often takes over underfunded pension plans when their sponsors go under. It said last month it would assume responsibility for a pair of Sears defined-benefit pension plans, which cover 90,000 people and are 64% funded, leaving a $1.7 billion gap to fill.

A key to Mr. Lampert’s offer is a settlement in which Sears agreed not to challenge Mr. Lampert’s right to bid using $1.3 billion in debt, instead of cash, as currency. A committee of unsecured creditors has said Mr. Lampert shouldn’t be able to rely on loans he previously extended to Sears when he used stock buybacks, spinoffs and dividends to rake in money over the years while stripping Sears of assets.

ESL has as repeatedly denied accusations made by the creditors throughout the bankruptcy and said his transactions with Sears took place on fair market terms and were transparent.


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