Sears Seeks to Kill Bankruptcy Talk as Stock Collapses

March 22, 2017, 5:19 PM UTC

Sears Holdings (SHLD) sought on Wednesday to soothe growing fears it was going bankrupt after a disclosure in its annual report evoking concerns about its survival sent shares plummeting 15%.

The owner of the Kmart and Sears chains put out a blog post slamming media reports about the bankruptcy concerns, saying they did not make clear the steps the company is taking to fix its finances after years of enormous sales declines and hinted the disclosure was simply boilerplate language.

“It is very important to reiterate that Sears Holdings remains focused on executing our transformation plan,” Chief Financial Officer Jason Hollar wrote in a blog post.

In its annual report released on Tuesday, the retailer, which owns Sears and Kmart, said that its years-long sales declines “indicate substantial doubt exists related to the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” In other words, many think Sears will go under. The disclosure also said Sears management felt it had enough liquidity for at least the next 12 months.

In his blog post, Hollar suggested that comments were standard practice, saying they were “in line with regulatory standards” that require companies to disclose risks for the next year. He also said that while past performance was behind the disclosure, it did not mean Sears Holdings expected its dismal performance to continue.

It’s easy to see why investors were spooked: Sears Holdings sales have been imploding for years now, with no sign of relief despite the company’s protestations. Comparable sales at Kmart fell 7.4% last year, while at Sears they were down 9.3%, much bigger drops than at almost all other major retailers. Since 2012, Sears has racked up a total of $10.5 billion in losses as revenue fell 47% to $22.1 billion. It has also closed about one-third of its stores..

What’s more, the cash bleed led Fitch earlier this year forecast the company would burn through $1.8 billion in the current fiscal year and estimated Sears would have to raise some $2 billion to get through the latest cash squeeze. The agency even hinted at the possibility of a Sears bankruptcy.

Hollar listed many of the moves Sears has made to shore its finances. Those in recent years have include the sale of many key assets like Lands’ End and its Craftsman tool brands. More recently, in February, it announced moves to cut costs by $1 billion. Sears has also cut its debt and pension obligations by at least $1.5 billion this year. And it is closing another 150 stores.

In its annual report, Sears, which has $13.19 billion in liabilities, said it could have problems securing merchandise from vendors, something it is likely starting to do now ahead of the 2017 holiday season.

Once the largest retailer in the United States, Sears now has a market value of $887 million, a fraction of what it once was.

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