It is fitting that Sears' annual shareholders' meeting is being held around the same time as the Berkshire Hathaway gathering.
Eddie Lampert, Chairman of Sears not only says that Warren Buffett inspired his investing sensibilities. Lampert is also compared to the "Oracle of Omaha."
But these days Lampert has been taking heat for Sears' 47% decline in share price this year and for Sears' continued sales declines.
That criticism is quiet though at this meeting today. Perhaps because Lampert so rarely speaks to analysts and never speaks to the press, many of the vocal critics have skipped out on this shareholder meeting.
Activist investor Bill Ackman is here but his questions though pointed, were relatively muted. Ackman explained his hedge fund's (Pershing Square Capital) motivation in buying 5M shares of Sears as due to Eddie Lampert's involvement.
The awe with which investors address Lampert reflects a similar respect/fear that maybe he's right--maybe he really does see something that Wall Street's measuing tools (same store sales, etc.) don't actually pickup on.
So far here are some highlights:
- Lampert doesn't see a turnaround so far in consumer economy and doesn't foresee one this year.
- He hasn't seen a benefit as yet from interest rate cuts but does think that there will be a benefit.
- He thinks the market is flooded with too many stores being opened by competitors.
- Brands seem to be the new bet for Sears--are brands/merchandising replacing Lampert's emphasis on the underlying real estate play?
- There is a fundamental shift in how consumers shop. Part of that is due to increasingly specialized brick and mortar as well as online retailers.
I'll be posting more notes from the meeting later today.
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