Sears

Edward S. Lampert’s bailout plan to eliminate $4.35 billion in Sears Holdings Corp.’s debt load isn’t enough to avoid further restructuring. That’s according to credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings, which said the proposals are “insufficient to avoid further restructuring given negative EBITDA trends [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] and ongoing liquidity needs.”

Lampert’s plan includes $1.75 billion in asset sales, comprising the Kenmore brand and the Sears home improvement and services businesses. The idea was raised by Lampert earlier this year in an effort to stave off a Sears bankruptcy filing down the road. The plan for ESL, Lampert’s hedge fund, to acquire the businesses was formalized into a proposal in August. In addition, the plan counts on $1.47 billion in real estate transactions and a $1.12 billion debt conversion. The latter would make debt holders become stockholders. And while it would cut the debt load by $4.35 billion, it would still leave Sears owing $1.24 billion.

Sears said, “The board has directed Sears’ management and its advisers to work closely with ESL to seek to pursue liability management transactions, and has referred the proposed real estate transactions to the existing special committee.”

“We will now be working aggressively to execute liability management transactions so that we can extend our runway and continue executing on our transformation strategy. At the same time, we’ll continue to move forward with our other planned liquidity and cost measures,” a Sears spokesman said.

Lampert earlier this month raised the possibility of a bankruptcy filing when the company reported second-quarter earnings. He has already dangled next month as a possible time frame for a bankruptcy filing if his plan isn’t accepted. The time element could be because Sears has $134 million in debt due on Oct. 15. And this isn’t the first time the company has raised the bankruptcy possibility. In March 2017, the retailer had its potential-bankruptcy moment when, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Sears warned about its ability to continue operations as a going concern.

Fitch Ratings on Tuesday said Sears faces “significant near term liquidity constraints,” attributing that to the $134 million due on Oct. 15 for second lien notes, as well as “associated debt maturity reserve requirements under its credit facility agreement on Oct. 1, 2018.”

The ratings agency, which considers the proposal a distressed debt exchange, said even if the financial restructuring goes through, Sears would likely still have annual liquidity needs in “excess of $600 million annually,” with EBITDA expected to “remain negative in the $500 million to $600 million range. Ongoing cash interest expense was estimated at $88 million.”

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