Sears

Sears Holding Corp. appears to be running low on cash.

The retailer that has chairman and chief executive officer Edward S. Lampert working on a multiyear transformation from brick-and-mortar to membership-centric said Thursday that it only has $174 million of availability left under its $1.97 billion credit facility for the third quarter ended Oct. 29. The company made the disclosure when it posted a wider third-quarter loss compared with a year ago. The $174 million is substantially lower than the $963 million in availability Sears said it had under its credit facility when it reported third-quarter results a year ago. Further, cash balances were $258 million versus $294 million a year ago.

The concern for credit analysts is Sears’ cash burn rate, a topic much written about by credit ratings agencies Fitch and Moody’s Investors Service. The ratings agencies expressed their concerns over refinancing risks and the possibility of default due to debt leverage.

On Nov. 14, Fitch affirmed its Long-term Issuer Default Ratings on Sears at “CC.” A Fitch spokeswoman said Thursday the rating action is still current. Fitch’s analyst Monica Aggarwal said at the time the cash burn rate for 2016 is expected at between $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion. She also noted that between 2012 to 2015, Sears had injected almost $10 billion in liquidity to fund ongoing operations given the material declines in internally generated cash flow. The $10 billion includes $4.7 billion from real estate transactions.

Sears still owns about 250 unencumbered Kmart and Sears full-line mall stores, but there’s no guarantee the properties could garner the same price per square foot as the 235 properties sold under the Seritage Growth Properties transaction, which provided $2.4 billion in proceeds.

One credit analyst said Thursday he didn’t think the properties Sears still owns were in locations as good as those in the Seritage transaction, noting that Sears would have already monetized the properties.

A Sears spokesman said Thursday, “We believe that we have sufficient resources to fund our transformation and meet all of our financial obligations.”

In addition to noting the cash balance and availability on it credit facility, the spokesman said: “We had total utilization under our credit facility of approximately $1 billion out of a total of $1.97 billion, of which approximately $660 million consisted of letters of credit. The availability under [the company’s] ABL revolver largely depends on the amount of inventory we carry at a given point during the year, and typically expands during the holiday season.”

He went on to note that another source of liquidity is the “$3.5 billion of equity in net inventory at the end of the third quarter, which could also be a source of cash if converted in the near-term. In addition, under the terms of our debt agreements, we have financing resources available to us under our credit facility, our Second Lien Debt capacity and our unencumbered real estate assets.”

The spokesman noted that as of Dec. 8, “[W]e have passed the peak of our inventory needs for the holiday season and we continue to meet our commitments to our various constituents.”

But analysts are concerned over Sears’ ever-widening losses, which continued in the third quarter. One analyst said the problem with Sears is that it is being run by non-merchants, and until that changes “Sears is likely to continue to lose money. This can’t go on forever. At some point, it is going to end.”

He said he has told supplier clients to stay away from Sears and if they are still shipping, to reduce their exposure to the retailer. Most suppliers that ship are doing so at their own risk, since most factors no longer approve orders to Sears.

“Sears could be in default [next year]. They need to refinance. How are they going to refinance? This is very concerning. We called our clients and said they shouldn’t be in there, and if they are to reduce their exposure,” the credit analyst said.

According to the Fitch report, Sears has a $500 million term loan maturing in July 2017 that’s secured by 21 properties.

The retailer’s failure to find a definitive growth strategy was further evidenced by its third-quarter results, when Sears’ loss widened to $748 million, or $6.99 a diluted share, compared with the net loss of $454 million, or $4.26, a year ago. EPS on an adjusted basis was $3.11, which beat Wall Street’s consensus estimate by 95 cents.

Net revenues fell 12.5 percent to $5.03 billion from $5.75 billion. Consolidated comparable-store sales for both Kmart and Sears Domestic fell 7.4 percent, with the decline 4.4 percent at Kmart and 10 percent at Sears.

Credit analysts were expecting the company to post a loss for the quarter. Indications came last week when Sears spinoff Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc. said in its earnings report that comparable-store sales fell 6 percent, but then cited a 48.8 percent comps decline in the apparel category at its Outlet comps, noting that Sears Holdings is its sole source for the category. Then Lands’ End, another Sears spin-off, in its earnings report said comps fell 14.3 percent — a good number of Sears stores still host Lands’ End shops-in-shops.

Investors at least seemed happy with the 95 cents adjusted EPS beat, sending shares of Sears up 5.3 percent Thursday to close at $12.76 in Nasdaq trading.

Lampert once again tried to put a positive spin on the figures, saying Thursday, “We remain fully committed to restoring profitability to our company and are taking actions such as reducing unprofitable stores, reducing space in stores we continue to operate (including through the Seritage lease arrangement), reducing investments in underperforming categories and improving gross margin performance and managing expenses relative to sales in key categories.”

The company’s new chief financial officer Jason M. Hollar, in prepared remarks to analysts, said the company has reduced the size of its consumer electronics business, as well as its pharmacy business in many Kmart stores. The cfo also said the company is working to “right-size the apparel” category — which has seen declines in the gross margin rate — and then noted in passing “activities to reduce the overall apparel category footprint while improving its performance.”

Hollar emphasized that the company does “not intend to borrow money to fund continued operating losses,” but then said initiatives designed to restore profitability might not happen “within the time frame we expected.” In that scenario, “we will consider additional actions to mitigate the operating losses we are incurring,” he said, suggesting that more store closures of unprofitable sites are an option.

“We cannot guarantee when we will return to profitability, but it is our intention to do so as soon as possible,” Hollar said. He also said that under the terms of its debt agreements, Sears has financing resources available, also pointing to its credit facility through its Second Lien Debt capacity. According to Sears, the Second Lien Debt capacity is $2 billion, of which it had $604 million in debt outstanding at the end of the third quarter.

Finally, Hollar reiterated that the company is still evaluating options for its Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard businesses, as well as its Home Services business.

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