Department Stores

Sears' loss widens in first quarter as sales plunge 30 percent

Key Points
  • Sears reported a first-quarter loss of $3.93 per share.
  • Revenue was down roughly 30 percent from a year ago.
  • Same-store sales declined 11.9 percent overall.
  • Sears also announced plans to shutter more than 70 additional stores later this year.
A Sears store in Chicago.
Getty Images

Sears Holdings on Thursday announced another round of store closures as it reported worse-than-expected fiscal first-quarter earnings, where same-store sales tumbled nearly 12 percent.

Sears shares fell more than 9 percent in premarket trading on the news. The stock has dropped more than 50 percent from a year ago to trade around $3.20.

Looking for cash to cover its looming debts, the department store chain is currently in the midst of evaluating an offer from its CEO Eddie Lampert's hedge fund, ESL Investments, where the company would sell certain assets — including the Kenmore brand.

Lampert said in a statement Thursday that the company will continue "exploring third-party partnerships involving several of our businesses — such as Sears Home Services, Innovel, Kenmore and DieHard" to try to get back to profitability.

The department store sector as a whole, which includes rivals J.C. Penney, Macy's and Dillard's, has struggled to keep pace with the growth of Amazon and other online players. Their stores lack unique offerings that keep shoppers coming back for more, and their large presence in U.S. malls has been a burden as foot traffic drifts to more urban venues.

Some industry experts speculate a bankruptcy protection filing could be near for Sears, especially in light of the department store chain looking to shed some of its more profitable and remaining assets. With the 2018 holiday season coming into sight, retailers need extra liquidity around this time of year to make larger orders.

Sears ended the first quarter with $466 million in its cash reserves, compared with $336 million in the prior period. It has used roughly $994 million of a $1.5 billion revolving credit facility due in 2020.

"While we are pleased with the progress on our capital structure initiatives, we are continuously exploring additional opportunities to further streamline operations and adjust inventory and operating expenses," CFO Rob Riecker said in a statement. "[W]e will need to continue to right size our store base and focus on our best stores, including our new smaller store formats."

Riecker also said Sears raised nearly $290 million from real estate sales during the latest period, with the majority of those proceeds used to pay down real estate-backed loans.

"Its continued efforts to enhance liquidity will be necessary to fund its ongoing operating losses," Moody's Vice President Christina Boni said.

In the latest quarter ended May 5, Sears reported a net loss of $424 million, or $3.93 per share. According to a survey by Thomson Reuters of the one analyst who still covers the company, the company was expected to post a loss of $1.51 per share. That compares with a year ago, when Sears reported net income of $245 million, or $2.29 per share, helped by a $492 million gain from the sale of its Craftsman tool brand.

Revenue dropped more than 30 percent to $2.9 billion from $4.2 billion this time last year. Sears said recent store closures contributed to roughly two-thirds of the decline.

Same-store sales, a key metric used to monitor a retailer's health, were down 11.9 percent overall. This consisted of a 9.5 percent drop at Kmart stores and a 13.4 percent decline at Sears stores. The one analyst had forecast a decline overall of 9.3 percent.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Lampert explained: "We have businesses that are profitable, and we have stores that are profitable, but we have other things that offset it. You know, it's almost every year like these four things are working, but all of a sudden these two are not. ... Would it have been better for me as an investor for me to walk away? So far, I've said no."

Earlier this week, the CEO penned a letter to a special committee of Sears' board, seeking permission to "engage" with "potential partners" that are also interested in the asset sale that includes ESL. "Speed and certainty here are critical," he said.

Even as its sales erode, Sears is slowly growing other parts of its business, recently signing a deal with Amazon to help install car tires ordered online and adding more partners to its Shop Your Way membership platform. It also recently signed an agreement with Citi Retail Services, extending its co-branded and private-label credit card for a longer term and bringing in $400 million of net cash flow.

"Some people would believe that you can go into bankruptcy and try to negotiate or adjust [our] liabilities," Lampert recently told CNBC. "We've chosen a different path."

Looking to the remainder of 2018, Sears has identified another 100 unprofitable stores that it plans to shutter over time. At the end of last year, the retailer operated just a little more than 1,000 locations in total.

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