Business

Sears has ‘substantial doubt’ about its future

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, shoppers walk into a Sears store in Pittsburgh. Sears said that there is ‘substantial doubt’that it will be able to remain in business. The company, which runs Kmart and its namesake stores, has struggled for years with weak sales.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, shoppers walk into a Sears store in Pittsburgh. Sears said that there is ‘substantial doubt’that it will be able to remain in business. The company, which runs Kmart and its namesake stores, has struggled for years with weak sales. AP

Sears, once the monolith of American retail, says that there is “substantial doubt” that it will be able to keep its doors open.

Millions of dollars have been funneled through the hedge fund of Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert to keep Sears afloat but with sales fading, it is burning through cash. Lampert combined Sears and Kmart in 2005, about two years after he helped bring Kmart out of bankruptcy .

According to a regulatory filing late Tuesday, Sears Holdings Corp. lost more than $2 billion last year. Adjusted for one-time charges, its loss was $887 million.

Company shares, which hit an all-time low last month, tumbled more than 15 Wednesday. In a midday blog post Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Jason Hollar said the company “remains focused” on executing its transformation plan, and will continue to work toward profitability.

Sears operates three department stores in the Charlotte area, as well as two outlet stores. Kmart operates two stores in the area. A spokesman said the company for now does not plan to put out any additional lists of store closures related to Tuesday’s regulatory filing.

Sears has been selling assets, most recently its Craftsman tool brand. But it says its pension agreements may prevent the spin-off of more businesses, potentially leading to a shortfall in funding.

“Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” Sears said in its filing .

Sears, which employs 140,000 people, announced a major restructuring plan in February with hopes of cutting costs by $1 billion through the sale of more stores, jobs cuts and brand asset sales. And it’s reconfiguring its debts to give itself more breathing room.

But it has to get more people through the doors or shopping for Sears brands online.

Sales at Sears and Kmart locations that have been open at least a year, a key indicator of a retailer’s health, dropped 10.3 percent in the final quarter of 2016.

The company plans to use a big portion of the $900 million it got for Craftsman to shore up its pension plan. It will put $250 million in cash and some income from annual payments toward the plan as part of a deal with the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., a federal agency that protects private pension plans.

The company said in its regulatory filing, however, that its agreement with the agency might stand in the way of more asset sales that would buy it more time.

Lampert has long pledged to return Sears to greatness, leveraging best-known brands like Kenmore and DieHard, as well as its vast holdings of land.

Those aspirations have been scrambled by a new consumer that has ripped up the decades-old playbook that the industry has relied upon for years.

There are also new and dynamic players that have also revolutionized the market, namely Amazon.com.

Sears has upped its presence online, but is having a hard time disguising its age. Stores are in need of a major redo.

Longtime rivals like Wal-Mart and Target are spending heavily to revitalize stores and they’re intensely focused on a new consumer that goes online before stepping into a store.

Sears in January announced that it would close 10 percent of the 1,500 stores that are still operating. The Observer contributed.

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