Shares of Sears closed up 2.6 percent to $8.19 in Nasdaq trading, but slipped 1.7 percent in after-hours trading. The intraday low was $7.85, and the high was $8.49.
Sears has gone on the offensive. Chief financial officer Jason Hollar took to blogging on the company web site on Wednesday to clear up reports about its “significant doubt” language in its annual report, and emphasized that the language was taken out of context. Hollar said the language was required by historical data under a new accounting requirement, as was information that followed indicating what the company is doing to mitigate that risk — such as increasing its liquidity, initiating a restructuring program, selling Craftsman and monetizing certain real estate sites.
Sears’ concern is a valid one — many vendors and credit advisers are debating whether or not to ship goods to Sears, and some are contemplating whether they need to shorten the payment cycle to ensure they get paid sooner rather than later. What Sears doesn’t want is a knee-jerk reaction that could push them to the brink while they’re trying to complete more financial maneuvers to allow them to continue with their attempt to turn around an old and outdated business model that has too many brick-and-mortar locations.
A Sears spokesman on Thursday said, “We can tell you that we have enjoyed long-standing relationships with our tens of thousands of other suppliers and vendors,” adding that the company has “always paid our vendors for orders we have placed.”
The spokesman further noted: “It is also critical to understand that our independent auditors have provided Sears Holdings with an ‘unqualified audit opinion.’ This indicates the company remains a ‘going concern,’ which means we are a viable business that can meet its financial and other obligations for the foreseeable future. Again, as we have previously communicated, we are firmly focused on improving the operational performance and financial flexibility of Sears Holdings.”
And Sears could be right about how nothing has changed other than that it presented a doubt that it was required to do under a new and more stringent FASB “going concern” guidance. That’s because many credit advisers and executives have concluded that the retail world no longer needs either a Kmart or Sears store in operation — its just a question of when that demise occurs.
Factors as of late last year had already stopped approving orders to Sears. One credit analyst at a private firm that advises clients on the creditworthiness of companies said, “The new rule definitely makes it harder for companies who have to put that language out there because people will be eying the company more closely. It’s not going to help [Sears], but it really doesn’t change the picture other than maybe it will scare some [vendors]. The disclosure is exacerbating a bad situation.”
Credit executives on Thursday were still digesting what the impact of the disclosure will mean for their firms. Some believed that Sears would be able to at least limp through the holiday season and get to 2018. How much more time Sears gets beyond that will be determined by what happens in the third and fourth quarters.
Others said they believe the pressure could start to accelerate sooner rather than later. One credit executive said he believes the pressures could hit Sears “before the fall season. By the middle of September, most of the merchandise has to be in the stores. I don’t [know if] they will be getting that flow of merchandise into the store.”
The problem Sears has is that almost everyone from vendors to credit analysts share the same conclusion, and that is Sears’ days are likely numbered. The only issue for some is whether they can get one more sale in — and still get paid by Sears for those shipments — before financial pressures escalate.