NEW YORK--Citing concern about Kmart's ability to turn around its ailing core discount business, Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Co. lowered the retailer's long-term debt ratings to triple-B from single-A-minus on $2.2 billion in debt. The rating agency said that while Kmart's modernization program is almost complete, operating performance at the discount stores continues to fall short of expectations. As reported Wednesday, Kmart cut its quarterly dividend in half to 12 cents a share and said it expects a loss in the first quarter. D&P noted that Kmart's management team is committed to cutting costs and closing underperforming stores. However, the "absence of a chief executive, combined with the operating and financial strength of its major competitors, increases the difficulty of Kmart's task," the agency said.
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