Is Warren Buffett just looking to make a fast buck or does he really believe in at least part of Eddie Lampert’s vision for Sears Holding Corp.?
The high-profile value investor bought two million shares of Seritage Growth Properties Inc., giving him an 8 percent stake in the real estate investment trust that was spun off from Sears in July.
The position, which was taken by Buffett personally and not his giant investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, gave plenty of comfort to Seritage shareholders, who pushed the stock up 16.6 percent to $41.09, giving the REIT a market capitalization of $1 billion. At the closing price, Buffett’s stake was worth just more than $82 million.
Sears stock also saw a lift, gaining 4.5 percent to $21.70, leaving the company with a market cap of $2.3 billion after Buffett’s stake was revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Lampert was for a time, lauded as the next Buffett. He brought Sears, Roebuck & Co. together with Kmart in an $11 billion deal in 2005 and was seen as potentially using the cash that flowed through the businesses to fund other investments, similar to how Buffett turned a small textile mill into an empire valued at more than $300 billion.
But the Sears and Kmart brands have waned. Lampert, who is now chief executive officer, is widely seen as underinvesting in the stores he controls, although he sees it more as a matter of capital allocation and has been betting on the company’s Shop Your Way membership platform. Lampert has repeatedly put more money into the company or sold off assets to keep it whole financially. The real estate that makes up the bulk of Seritage’s property was among those assets.
Seritage is made up of 235 wholly owned properties, 224 of which are leased to Sears or Kmart. The company also 31 joint venture properties.
Buffett is known as a savvy investor, who an eye for snapping up companies that are undervalued in the market. Through Berkshire Hathaway he has some exposure to fashion, including Fruit of the Loom, Borsheims Fine Jewelry and Helzberg Diamonds.
Although the regulatory filing did not specify what drew Buffett to Seritage, real estate has become a hot topic in retail lately. Macy’s Inc. has felt pressure to unlock some of the value in its real estate portfolio and Hudson’s Bay Co. has grown dramatically through a series of acquisitions, including Saks Inc., that had a real estate component.