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Sears Sees Lower Quarterly Profit; Shares Plunge

Sears Holdings on Tuesday forecast lower quarterly profit and said it needs to better control its costs and stock more items that its shoppers demand, sending shares down more than 8.7%.

The company, which runs the Sears and Kmart chains, also said its board had approved the repurchase of up to an additional $1 billion of common stock.

Sears
Sears

Under the control of hedge fund manager Edward Lampert, Sears has been seen as more of a financial play than a retailer. In May, Lampert said that Sears was considering acquisitions and other ways to use its cash.

Tuesday's forecast suggests Sears will miss analysts' expectations for the second quarter in a row. But now, Wall Street may be taking a closer look at its retail operations.

"While investors have sought to value Sears as something other than a retailer, its recent results demonstrate that it is not immune to the current challenging sales environment impacting retailers with big-ticket home exposure," Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira, who rates the shares "neutral," wrote in a research note.

Shapira said the second-quarter performance "was particularly important" as it would show whether the first-quarter shortfall was "an anomaly or the start of a new trend."

Sears stock has fallen 6.2% since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's Multiline Retail Industry index has risen nearly 6%.

HOME EXPOSURE

Sales at Kmart stores open at least one year fell 3.9% in the first nine weeks of the 13-week second quarter, with declines across most categories at the discount chain.

Same-store sales fell 4% at U.S. Sears stores, with declines across most categories, although demand for women's apparel and footwear improved.

At those stores, comparable-store sales of home appliances fell more sharply than most other categories did, but the decline was not as steep as it was in the first quarter.

Shapira expects similar pressure at other retailers with home exposure such as Macy's, J.C. Penney, Kohl's, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma and Ethan Allen Interiors. Shares in all of those companies were lower on Tuesday.

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The bleak outlook from Sears came the same day that Home Depot forecast a deeper profit drop for 2007.

"Although we believe our business has suffered from many of the same factors that have led other retailers to announce disappointing results and lowered expectations, our recent performance underscores our ongoing need to become more relevant to consumers while improving our discipline around expense management," Sears Holdings Chief Executive Aylwin Lewis said in a statement.

Should the sales trends continue, Sears Holdings said it expected quarterly profit of $160 million to $200 million, or $1.06 to $1.32 a share, including special items.

Excluding an after-tax gain of about $12 million from bankruptcy-related settlements and total return swap investing activities, Sears expects to earn 98 cents to $1.24 per share.

On that basis, analysts' average forecast was $2.12 per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

In last year's second quarter, Sears earned $294 million, or $1.88 a share. Excluding a gain, it earned $272 million, or $1.74 per share, in that period.

Sears said it expected to end the second quarter with about $2.8 billion in cash and cash equivalents, excluding Sears Canada, down from $3.1 billion at the end of the first quarter.

Investors watch the cash closely because Sears has given Lampert authority to invest excess money as he sees fit.

The new $1 billion share repurchase authorization is in addition to the $121 million worth of shares still available for repurchase under an existing program. Sears said it had bought back about 13.8 million shares for $1.9 billion since the repurchase plan was approved in the third quarter of fiscal 2005. As of July 7, it had about 150.9 million common shares outstanding.

Shares of Sears were down 8.7% at $156.50 in midday Nasdaq trade.

The company reported results for the nine weeks ended on July 7. The second quarter ends on August 4. Sears said it did not plan to update its outlook before announcing second-quarter results on or about August 30.

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