Sometimes it pays to set expectations low.
Sears Holdings (SHLD) on Thursday reported a loss of $558 million for its third fiscal quarter, felled by the continuing collapse in sales at its established Sears and Kmart stores. But because it was a smaller loss than a year earlier, showing the shrinking retailer is at least cutting costs efficiently as its core business dwindles, shares went up 5% though they remain down 70% from their 52-week highs.
Comparable sales fell 17% at Sears and 13% at Kmart, a striking result given that they exclude the dozens of weak stores the company has culled in the last year. The results are catastrophic compared to those of rivals like Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), J.C. Penney (JCP), and Macy’s (M), each facing challenges but none in nearly as poor condition as the once iconic Sears. It was the 24th quarter of comparable sales declines in a row for the company.
And the results did nothing to ease concerns about Sears’ longer term viability, something the company acknowledged earlier this year in its 2016 annual report. The company has lost more than $10 billion in the last six years, putting enormous stress on its finances and leading it to sell some of its best assets in recent years.
“Ultimately, we still believe that Sears is a dying business. Whichever way you cut them, the fundamental economics of the business do not add up,” Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail, wrote in a research note on Thursday. He praised moves like Sears selling its Kenmore appliances on Amazon.com (AMZN), but said such efforts were insufficient to move the needle.
That didn’t stop Chairman and Chief Executive Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund manager who engineered the merger of Sears and Kmart in 2005, from claiming to see “success” in the company’s efforts to downsize itself by streamlining operations, reducing inventory, and minimizing operating expenses.
Sears did make progress in lowering its debt: it said it had raised more than $270 million from sales of real estate and other assets in the third quarter, as well as an another $167 million after the close of the quarter. It used the proceeds to bring long-term debt and obligations down to $2.03 billion at the end of the quarter from $2.41 billion three months earlier.