The Herald Bulletin

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October 29, 2013

Sears considering spinning off Lands' End

NEW YORK — It's like watching an old friend slowly fall apart.

Sears was once the place where families could go for an afternoon of one-stop shopping for everything from clothing to appliances to car parts. But it has struggled in recent years amid declining sales and stiff competition.

Now, Sears, which runs 2,500 Kmart and Sears stores, is considering separating its Lands' End catalog business and Sears Auto Center businesses from the rest of the company. The retailer also plans to continue closing some of its unprofitable stores and is selling some store leases in Canada.

The announcements came Tuesday as Sears warned that it expects a loss of $582 million in the third quarter on another drop in sales. The company said that for the 12 weeks that ended Saturday its sales at stores open at least a year fell 3.7 percent.

On the news, Sears shares rose $5.66, or more than 10 percent, to $61.22 midday.

"(Sears) equity remains a melting ice cube, with asset sales and spinoffs the clearest path to justifying the share price," noted Greg Melich, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group LLC in a report published on Tuesday.

The news underscores the intense pressure facing billionaire hedge fund manager and chairman Eddie Lampert, who took over as CEO in February to turn around the business. The storied retailer hasn't adapted as bigger, nimbler rivals such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot have stolen away customers over the years.

Last year, Sears announced plans to restore profitability by cutting costs, reducing inventory, selling off some assets and spinning off others. Those moves helped it reduce net debt by $400 million and generated $1.8 billion in cash from the asset sales in the latest fiscal year. Sears also has been building a loyalty program called Shop Your Way, which accounts for 65 percent of its sales and has tens of millions of active customers.

But critics say Sears hasn't managed to solve its core problem: Its stores aren't inviting to shoppers. "The stores are horrifically out of date," said Brian Sozzi, CEO and Chief Equities Strategist at Belus Capital Advisors. "The shopping experience is depressing."

Still, the latest moves don't address the shopping experience, and are more in keeping with Sears' turnaround strategy of getting rid of assets and closing stores.

Sears said that it likely will pursue a spinoff of Lands' End, which it bought in 2002, to shareholders and not an outright sale. "We believe that Lands' End is an iconic brand with the potential to become a more global brand," said a Sears statement.

Sears also said it's repositioning Sears Auto Center around services other than tires and is evaluating strategic options for the business. Additionally, Sears anticipates closing unprofitable stores, including locations whose leases will expire soon.

In addition, Sears Canada is selling five store leases to Cadillac Fairview Corp. for 400 million Canadian dollars. ($383.5 million). The deal is expected to close in the next 10 business days.

 

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