Sears Fund has contacted banks in recent days to arrange the funding needed to file for bankruptcy after 125 years in business, people familiar with the situation told CNBC.
The stock fell 32 percent, to 40 cents a share, in Wednesday’s trading ahead of the report’s release.
The so-called “debtor-in-possession” loan, which businesses need to have enough cash to continue running the business during bankruptcy, is the clearest sign yet that the department store chain may finally file after. years of losses. Sears has a $ 134 million debt payment due Monday that it previously said it may not be able to cover.
A bankruptcy filing is not yet final and could still be avoided. CEO of Sears, Eddie Lampert, kept the business afloat through financial maneuvering and investing his own money in the business. He can choose to do so again.
Its hedge fund, ESL Investments, also proposed a restructuring and it offered to buy some of Sears’ remaining key assets through its hedge fund. It’s unclear whether Sears’ lenders will agree.
Lampert, who owns a controlling stake in Sears, personally owns some 31 percent of the retailer’s outstanding shares, according to FactSet. Its hedge fund ESL Investments holds around 19%.
While assessing bankruptcy, Sears has worked with advisers such as Lazard and M-III Partners, according to people who have asked not to be identified because the talks are private. He has worked with M-III for more than two years, the sources said.
the the Wall Street newspaper reported Tuesday that Sears hired M-III Partners to prepare for bankruptcy it could happen as early as this week.
Representatives for Sears and M-III did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Lampert, a hedge fund manager called “the next Warren buffett“, bought Kmart in 2004. A year later, it merged it with Sears, in which it had a controlling interest.
Both department stores were already grappling with mounting new competition, but Lampert believed he could revive the business in part by capitalizing on its lucrative real estate.
However, the challenges turned out to be greater than expected. And the timing was wrong – a few years before the Great Recession – which drove sales of new home products like washers and dryers down. The boom in online shopping has brought it a new giant that it has struggled to compete with. Sears’ 140,000 square foot stores were monstrous as foot traffic dwindled.
The retailer’s last profitable year was 2010. Analysts said Sears would need to generate more than $ 1 billion a year to keep operating as its sales continue to erode. It still has fewer than 900 stores in the United States today with fewer than 90,000 employees, compared to over 3,500 Sears and Kmart locations combined and hundreds of thousands of workers. Layoffs have been constant as store closings increase.
Sears has been in survival mode for over a decade. Since its merger with Kmart, Sears has created Lands’ End, sold the Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker and closed hundreds of stores, including 250 at a real estate investment trust subsidiary known as Seritage.
Efforts to keep the business alive by selling off its best assets to pay off debts left it with little money to reinvest in its stores. They also left shelves gradually empty, as major suppliers, worried about Sears’ future, demanded stricter payment terms.
“This failure has manifested itself in lost customers, lost market share and a brand that has become tarnished and less relevant,” GlobalData Retail chief executive Neil Saunders told CNBC on Tuesday evening. “The business simply has no reason to exist.”
He is also struggling with an underfunded pension. In 2015, he struck a final deal with PBGC, a federal government watchdog that guarantees retirement for individuals and acts as a parachute in the event of a business going bankrupt. As part of the deal, Sears granted the PBGC a lien on many of its most valuable remaining assets. The deal also reduced Sears’ ability to reinvest all of its income into relaunching the business.
Sears lost $ 508 million over the second quarter as sales fell at a double-digit pace. Its adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization widened to $ 112 million, compared to a loss of $ 66 million in the same quarter a year earlier. Sales at stores open for at least 12 months also fell 3.9% in the second quarter, which ended on August 4.
In August, ESL made an offer to buy the famous Kenmore appliance brand and home improvement division, as one more attempt to invest money in the business. Sears appointed a special committee earlier this year to balance the potential conflict of interest inherent in ESL’s candidacy.
The committee frustrated Lampert with his slowness, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. He declined to approve Lampert’s bailout, fearing to open the company to litigation, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Industry experts have suggested that Sears may have made itself vulnerable to legal action over its strategy of selling its valuable assets to pay off debt, instead of spending more money on rehabilitating it. company or the reimbursement of his pension.
When those efforts failed, ESL asked last month Sears creditors agree to restructure their debtt in a detailed presentation that highlighted the risks it faced. With so few key assets remaining, however, the retailer has little to offer its lenders as collateral.
Lampert sounded the alarm on September 13 blog post, claiming that Sears had to restructure its debt or sell certain assets if it was to continue operating.
“It is imperative that the company reduce its debt, adjust its debt maturity profile and eliminate the associated cash interest obligations,” he wrote. “We continue to believe that it is in the best interests of all of our stakeholders to accomplish this as an operating business, rather than alternatives that could result in significant write-downs.”