Sears

Sears Holdings Corp. is posting third-quarter results on Thursday, and credit analysts are expecting the company to post a loss.

One reason is because when Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc., a spinoff, reported earnings last week, it said comparable-store sales fell 6 percent. Most of the declines at Hometown — comps were down 3.2 percent — were due to ticket erosion in home appliances, while Outlet comp declines of 11.9 percent were attributable to the home appliances category. The company also cited a 48.8 percent comps decrease in the apparel category, “affected by the continuing impact of significantly reduced inventory availability from Sears Holdings, our sole source for this category.”

The company said since it didn’t expect inventory availability to improve, it was looking to de-emphasize and eventually exit the apparel category. It wasn’t immediately clear how much apparel is actually sold at Outlet, and the searsoutlet.com site doesn’t list apparel as an online option. A spokesman for Sears declined comment Wednesday, while a call to Sears Hometown was not returned.

Another concern is the 14.3 percent comps drop at Lands’ End, also a Sears spinoff, which posted third-quarter results a week ago. A good number of Sears stores still host Lands’ End shops-in-shops.

Credit analysts are trying to extrapolate what might be in store for Sears, given the concern over its cash burn rate. Credit ratings agencies — such as Fitch and Moody’s Investors Service — have expressed concerns over refinancing risks and the possibility of default due to debt leverage.

One financial analyst said Wednesday “there’s still no word about a joint venture for the three [proprietary] brands,” suggesting that potential buyers aren’t willing to pay Sears’ asking price for its Craftsman, Die Hard and Kenmore brands.

A credit analyst estimated that about 3 percent to 4 percent of gross sales are factored. He added that “factors for the most part are not supporting Sears.” This person said the few who are still lending are trying to reduce their exposure. He also said that insurance, which is the backup for payments to vendors in case Sears fails to pay, is no longer an option for suppliers. This individual said, “Vendors are taking on the risk if they want to continue to sell to them. Some of them are not selling to Sears anymore.”

While Sears’ chairman and chief executive officer Edward S. Lampert said the turnaround from brick-and-mortar to a membership-based Shop Your Way platform is a multiyear initiative, most analysts believe the plan is not doing enough to turn around the firm’s fortunes.

“If you look at the bottom line, it is not working at all. You just have to infer it is not working….[Lampert] needs merchants who know about running a [retail] business,” one credit source said.

While there are rumors of the Kmart brand close to being shut down — in a planned move, a good number of stores will go dark later this month — this credit source said the company likely will not choose to shutter the nameplate. “It is more favorable to them to do it through a bankruptcy to get out of the store leases,” the same credit source said.

In its most recent earnings report for the second quarter ended July 30, Sears lost $395 million, or $3.70 a diluted share, against net income of $208 million, or $1.82, a year ago, on an 8.8 percent revenue slide to $5.66 billion. Shares of Sears Holdings have been trading in the $12.05 range, not that far from its 52-week low of $11.54.