Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse for Sears Holdings (SHLD), the owner of Sears and Kmart announced its deepest quarterly sales plunge in recent times and said it could sell off 140 stores.
The struggling retailer, which has lost more than $10 billion in the last six years, also said it may sell off 140 stores in a deal with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp to pay $407 million into its underfunded pension plan. The PBGC is a government oversight organization that guarantees individuals’ pension and serves as a backstop in the event a company goes bankrupt.
Despite the massive culling of its weakest stores this year, comparable sales, which exclude business at recently opened or closed locations, fell 17% at Sears and 13% at Kmart, far steeper drops than those in recent quarters and numbers.
In the last two years, Sears has sold off dozens of its best stores, among other assets, to raise money while its business deteriorated. In many cases, Sears has leased back stores it sold. Still, Sears has been on closing binge of its namesake and Kmart stores, announcing its latest round last week with 63 stores getting the axe, just one of several such announcements this year.
And while Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert, a hedge fund manager who controls about half of its shares, has repeatedly said in recent years that he has been trying to transform the business into a retailer focused on members and less reliant on physical stores, the sales declines are only getting worse and suggest little customer attachment to the brand names. Sears reported total revenues of roughly $3.7 billion during the third quarter of 2017, down from $5 billion a year earlier. About half that decline came from store closures.
“The retail environment remains challenging, with continued pressures on sales,” Sears said in a statement.
Be that as it may, it’s not so challenging as to explain the massive sales drops at Sears. Indeed the National Retail Federation has forecast retail sales will rise as much as 4% this holiday season, roughly the pace of growth for the full year. And consumer confidence is on the rise and unemployment down, making it hard for individual retailers to blame the economy. Sears’ department store peers are struggling, but posting far smaller declines. As for Kmart, its discount rivals Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) are seeing sales increases.
The troubled retailer, which earlier this year recognized there are doubts in the stock market about its future as an ongoing entity, expects a net loss of between $525 million and $595 million, compared with a $748 million loss in the same period last year.
Shares fell 4% in early trading and are down 66% from a 52-week high.