Where would Sears be without Edward S. Lampert?
The hedge fund wiz, who serves as chairman and chief executive officer of Sears Holdings Corp., extended a $300 million lifeline to the struggling retailer from his ESL Investments.
Investors remained cautious on the company and traded the stock down 4.3 percent on Thursday, to $14.07.
But many do not see Lampert as savior. Critics have repeatedly torn into his stewardship at the company, arguing that he has not invested enough in store refurbishments and new brands and that his 2005 merger of Sears and Kmart was really a play for real estate.
The new loan suggests Lampert still believes in Sears and his continuing effort to change the bricks-and-mortar chains into a web savvy, membership-focused business. That transformation, though, is still coming and the latest injection of funds came after the retailer posted second-quarter earnings that bested Wall Street’s estimates for both EPS and revenues, but nonetheless painted a bleak picture of a retailer long past its prime.
Chief financial officer Rob Schriesheim told analysts on a pre-recorded conference call, “We received an offer from ESL Investments Inc. to provide $300 million of additional debt financing secured by a junior lien against our inventory, receivables and other working capital, and this offer has been accepted.”
“Under the ESL proposal, the company may, at its discretion, offer to third-party investors the right to participate up to an incremental $200 million of debt financing on the same terms and conditions,” the cfo said. “The financing is subject to customary conditions and is expected to close in the next seven to 10 business days.”
Schriesheim said the company continues to “make progress in our transformation to a more asset-light, member-centric integrated retailer leveraging our Shop Your Way platform. Our member sales penetration has grown from 58 percent to 75 percent since 2011. Going forward, we intend to increase out level of member engagement while focusing on our best members, our best stores and our best categories.”
The cfo also said the retailer had $276 million of cash at July 30, the end of the second quarter. It also had $191 million of availability to borrow on its credit facility and $149 million of availability on its short-term borrowing basket, giving it $616 million in funds immediately available.
Schriesheim said the company also had $3.3 billion of equity in inventory at the end of the second quarter, and when added to the $616 million of total liquid availability, would yield the retailer “nearly $4 billion” in liquid assets.
“We have the financial resources and liquid assets to fund our transformation and meet all of our obligations,” he said.
The new funds from ESL is the company’s second loan this year. It closed on a $750 million term loan in April that matures in July 2020. As for its real estate, the company generated $176 million in proceeds from real estate transactions and other asset sales during the quarter. And earlier in the year it obtained a $500 million real estate loan maturing in July 2017 that is secured by 21 properties. The cfo said the company still owns 414 stores and leases 926 that were not part any of its joint ventures or its real estate spinoff, Seritage Growth Properties.
The cfo also said Sears will continue to shift its retail model.
“We will continue to optimize the productivity of our space as we right-size, redeploy and highlight the value of our assets, including our substantial and unencumbered real estate portfolio,” he said. “We have the ability to rationalize our retail store footprint and generate additional lease income through partnerships with other retailers. Additionally, we recently launched a stand-alone freestanding appliance store which integrates our digital assets with our real estate space to better serve our member.”
Meanwhile the company continues to evaluate opportunities for its Kenmore, Craftsman and Diehard brands, as well as its Sears Home Services business.
For the three months ended July 30, Sears posted a loss of $395 million, or $3.70 a diluted share, against the $208 million, or $1.82, in profits posted a year ago. On an adjusted basis, the loss narrowed to $2.03 a share from $2.40 a year earlier. Revenues fell 8.8 percent to $5.66 billion from $6.21 billion a year ago, mostly due to fewer stores.
The company said comparable-store sales at Kmart fell 3.3 percent in the quarter, while comps at Sears Domestic stores were down 7 percent. At Kmart, comp increases in some categories such as jewelry and apparel were offset by declines in grocery and household. At Sears Domestic stores, comp declines were driven primarily by decreases in home appliances, apparel, consumer electronics and lawn and garden and tools. The company also said that as a result of its Heritage and joint venture transactions, the second quarter included additional rent expenses of $48 million.
Sears beat Wall Street’s earnings per share estimates by $1.45, as the Street’s consensus was $3.48, and it topped revenue expectations of $5.43 billion.
Earlier this week, the company said it was shoring up its apparel business, something Lampert promised at the firm’s annual shareholders’ meeting in May. The test will be a new Showcase at Sears concept launching this fall. The 10,000-square-foot to 15,000-square-foot shops-in-shops will offer more than 10 brands that are well-known in Europe and Latin America, but are less familiar in the U.S.
Showcase will initially launch at five New York-area stores in the fall. The shops will feature men’s and women’s apparel, shoes, intimates and accessories, in style from fast fashion and fitness to contemporary and tailored sportswear. Whether the grouping resonates with consumers remains to be seen. But even if it does, it’s still a question of whether the move to expand fashion is a little too late for the beleaguered retailer.