Sears, the 125-year-old icon, has 24 hours to survive.
The employer of more than 68,000 filed for bankruptcy in October. Its last shot at survival is a $4.6 billion proposal put forward by its chairman, Eddie Lampert, to buy the company out of bankruptcy through his hedge fund, ESL Investments. ESL is the only party offering to buy Sears as a whole, people familiar with the situation tell CNBC. Without that bid or another like it, liquidators will break the company up into pieces.
But as Lampert stares down a deadline of Dec. 28 to submit his offer, he is quickly running out of time. As of Thursday afternoon, Lampert had neither submitted his bid, nor rounded up financing, the people familiar said. Should Lampert submit a bid, Sears' advisors would have until Jan. 4 to decide whether he is a "qualified bidder." Only then, could ESL take part in an auction against liquidation bids on Jan. 14.
It is possible Lampert, Sears' largest investor, secures financing in time to meet the deadline, these people said. The hedge fund manager turned retailer has managed last-minute feats before. Due to requirements by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Lampert will be required to make his bid public. That stipulation that could sway him to prolong the filing until its exact deadline of 4:00 p.m. ET Friday.
Nonetheless, the quickly approaching cutoff puts Sears the closest to death it has ever been. Should Lampert miss the deadline, it would put Sears and Kmart on the path to liquidation. That process would take weeks, according to the guidelines laid out by the bankruptcy court. But the process has also already slowly begun, with the retailer weighing the closure of 50 to 80 more stores, CNBC has reported.
The people familiar with these developments requested anonymity because the talks are confidential.