Sears

Anyone thinking Sears Holdings Corp. is close to giving up the ghost will have to wait a bit longer.

The company is evaluating bids for more than 60 separate real estate properties that could get it close to its target of at least $1 billion in proceeds to help fund its “transformation,” and it is planning to launch Regatta Great Outdoors, an established outerwear brand based in Manchester, England, in the fall.

Rob Riecker, chief financial officer, said on Thursday during the company’s prerecorded call to Wall Street analysts that the special committee formed to market the real estate assets has “executed $28 million of real estate sales out of over $700 million in non-overlapping bids received to date” and is expecting additional bids in the near future. “We are planning on using the proceeds from the sale of these properties to further reduce our outstanding debt and strengthen the company’s balance sheet,” the cfo said.

He said the company would continue to evaluate strategic options to unlock value from its Kenmore and DieHard brands, as well as for the Sears Home Services and Sears Auto Center businesses “via partnerships, joint venture or other means.”

Riecker didn’t rule out the possibility of more store closures. He said: “We will continue to closely evaluate the stores where a clear path to return to profitability is not in sight. We are determined to take necessary actions to improve the performance of Sears Holdings and will leverage our lease optionality to reconfigure our stores and reduce capital obligations.

On the surface, the retailer’s first-quarter results seemed promising — for the quarter ended April 29, Sears reported its first quarter of net profits in nearly two years, at $244 million, or $2.28 a diluted share, compared with a net loss of $471 million, or $4.41, a year ago.

But after digging under the hood, the company only did better because it completed the sale of its Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker, a deal valued at $900 million that gives Sears an initial upfront cash payment of $525 million, subject to closing costs and an adjustment for working capital.

On an adjusted basis, the results weren’t so great. Sears widened its net loss to $230 million, or $2.15, compared with an adjusted net loss of $199 million, or $1.86, a year ago. The loss at $2.15 was 90 cents better than Wall Street’s expectations of a loss of $3.05 a diluted share. Revenues fell 20.3 percent to $4.30 billion from $5.39 billion, due mostly to fewer stores, while comparable-store sales fell 11.2 percent at the Kmart nameplate and were down 12.4 percent at Sears Domestic stores.

Shares of Sears jumped 13.5 percent to close at $8.48, but that was likely due to a short squeeze.

Edward S. Lampert, chairman and chief executive officer, said, “While this was certainly a challenging quarter for our company, it was also one that clearly demonstrated our commitment to return Sears Holdings to solid financial footing.  We recognize that we need to accelerate our efforts to improve our operational performance and are moving decisively with our $1.25 billion restructuring program.”

The company said initiatives to date have resulted in $700 million annualized cost savings already, and have made incremental actions to increase its previous targeted goal of $1 billion to $1.25 billion. Further, it has paid down $418 million of term loans outstanding under its revolving credit facility. Earlier this week, the company annuitized $515 million of pension liability, reducing the overall size of the pension plan, as well as reduce future cost volatility and administrative costs. It also reached an agreement to extend the maturity of $400 million of its $500 million 2016 Secured Loan Facility to January 2018 from its previous due date of July 2017. That agreement gives Sears an option for a further extension until July 2018.

Stephen Opper, a distressed debt analyst at Reorg Research, said, “Although Sears appears to have levers to pull to fund ongoing losses, the company’s unrestricted cash balance and revolver availability continue to tighten, making further execution of the company’s strategic restructuring program paramount in 2017.”

As for Regatta Great Outdoors, the apparel brand that began in 1981 has expanded to other categories, such as footwear. It offers a wide range of products for men, women and kids. Further details of the launch at Sears were not disclosed.

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