Edward S. Lampert’s “rescue bid” for Sears Holdings Corp. might save the bankrupt retailer from oblivion — for now — but the retailer’s woes could open up opportunities for other players, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Dillard’s Inc. are among the retailers who stand to get a chunk of the estimated $2 billion in annual apparel sales that the Sears nameplate draws — a piece of market share nearly as big as Bon-Ton Stores Inc., which had sales of $2.5 billion before it liquidated. (Moody’s said the company’s mostly off-mall Kmart business has another $1.7 billion in apparel sales).
Lampert, Sears’ former chief executive officer as well as its largest shareholder and debt holder heading into bankruptcy, bid $5.2 billion to buy the company. A judge still needs to sign off on that deal, but the debt watchdog is iffy on the future of the company.
“Sears faces the risk of shedding more stores or outright liquidation,” Moody’s said.
“Now that Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, has apparently thrown Sears a lifeline with a rescue bid, the retailer could stagger on for longer as a going entity,” Moody’s said. “One of the key considerations will be how much of the store base survives, and whether Sears can return to any semblance of profitability.”
Moody’s said Sears “has lacked a viable core customer proposition” and that “we do not foresee this changing if the bid succeeds and believe [the company] faces the risk of shedding more stores or outright liquidation.”
“Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Dillard’s all have a significant number of overlapping locations with Sears and Bon-Ton and as such, are positioned to pick up new customers as stores close or Sears is unsuccessful in effectively operating stores post-emergence,” Moody’s said.
And out of that group it is Macy’s that seems poised to gain the most, overlapping with Sears in about 26 percent of its store base.
Moody’s also noted that the weaker malls that have a Sears store holding on could lose more ground.
“The stark bifurcation between higher and lower-tier regional malls has been exacerbated by the Sears bankruptcy, in many cases expediting the failure of weak malls while consolidating the dominance of strong ones,” the report said.