The optimization of Sears Holdings Corp.’s asset base likely means more store closures ahead.
That’s the conclusion of Cowen analyst John Kernan, who wrote a research note Tuesday. He also concluded that Burlington Stores Inc. and Dick’s Sporting Goods could be the beneficiaries of store sites that might become available down the road.
According to Kernan, Sears owns 302 U.S. Sears stores and leases 403. In contrast, only 97 Kmart stores are owned, while 844 are leased. The analyst noted that an analysis of Sears’ operating lease payments suggested that a large portion of the leases could be up within the next five years. He said the regional distribution of the Sears full-line and Kmart stores “skews to the Midwest, South and Northeastern regions of the U.S.” In addition, there are 651 Sears Auto Centers, of which 620 are associated with a Sears full-line store.
Kernan said landlords are incentivized to redevelop or re-anchor many of the sites as Sears pays $4.30 a square foot in rent compared with other tenants who pay between $12 and $20 a foot for a comparable location. Sears’ 266-store sale leaseback transaction last year with Seritage Growth Properties envisioned the possibility of redevelopment for some of the properties.
Cowen analysts also looked at cross-shopping tendencies and found that 56 percent of Sears shoppers have also visited a Burlington store, “while demographics such as age, ethnicity and income levels are strikingly similar.”
The Sears and Kmart nameplates generate $25 billion in sales in North America, while Sears itself still generates $6.3 billion in apparel and soft home sales. However, Sears Holdings also has “$3 billion in debt outstanding with no issue rated above CCC+,” Kernan noted. The retailer has burned through $6 billion in cash in the last four years, with $2.4 billion burnt in 2015. Moreover, Sears faces $734 million in pension contributions over the next two years, the analyst said.
Kernan sees Dick’s and Burlington as retailers that could be interested in acquiring some of the Sears sites when they become available.
The analyst said that, according to a sell-side report, same-store sales for the two nameplates combined has been estimated to be down 5.9 percent for fiscal year 2016. “With traffic pressure in retail building, there is a strong possibility that same-store sales trends could worsen through 2016, although we note that removing closed stores from the comp-store base could improve trends,” Kernan said.
The analyst added that Sears’ apparel business could be the key to improving profitability, but that also could be “highly uncertain and will be very difficult given industry conditions.”
Among the vendors with exposure should Sears close more stores are Iconix Brand Group, which generates 5 percent of its sales at Sears Holdings, and Hanesbrands Inc., the largest intimates vendor to the mass retailer, although its exposure is more likely a low-single digit percent of Hanesbrands’ total sales.
Sears Holdings said last month said it plans to shutter 68 Kmart stores and ten Sears locations. Most of the closures will be completed by late July.
At the time, Sears chairman and chief executive officer Edward S. Lampert said, “The decision to close stores is a difficult but necessary step as we take aggressive actions to strengthen our company, fund our transformation and restore Sears Holdings to profitability.”
Separately, some factors that are still checking Sears are now approving orders based on nameplate, which means that a supplier could get approval to ship to Sears, but not necessarily obtain approval to ship to Kmart as well. One financial source said that the split by nameplate — instead of looking holistically at the balance sheet of the corporate parent — suggests that financial lenders might see the Kmart business as the one that’s more pressured.
A Sears spokesman in the past has repeatedly debunked the idea that factors play a key role in Sears’ inventory levels, noting that the categories where they might have an influence are not major components of the retailer’s overall business. For example, much of Sears’ apparel business is private label.