Sears Holdings Corp., following nine straight quarters of losses, said it’s actively exploring the possible sale and lease back of 200 to 300 stores in a bid to strengthen its balance sheet.
The selected outlets would be sold to a newly formed real estate investment trust, the Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company said today in a statement. Sears would continue to operate stores in the locations sold to the REIT under leases. It also would let shareholders purchase stock in the trust.
Edward Lampert, Sears’s chief executive officer and its biggest investor, has been seeking ways to wring more cash out of the company’s assets -- including its sprawling real estate holdings. Last month, Sears announced plans to lease space in the Northeast to Primark Stores Ltd., a British budget-clothing retailer that’s expanding in the U.S.
“Sears Holdings is strategically transforming one of the largest retail real estate portfolios in the United States over time,” Jeff Stollenwerck, president of real estate for Sears, said in October.
Sears also announced a rights offering last month, giving it more time to return to profitability. The operator of the Kmart and Sears department-store chains stores aims to raise a total of as much as $2.07 billion this year if rights offerings are fully subscribed, according to a blog post last month. Fitch Ratings calculated in September that the company would need $4 billion of capital to avoid running out of cash in 2016.
Comparable sales in the third quarter fell 0.1 percent, Sears said today, less than the 0.6 percent drop for the first nine months of the financial year.
Sears has been closing some stores as Lampert seeks to create a leaner merchant focused on its digital operations and loyalty program. While the retailer has been a leader in adding features such as expedited in-store pickup for online orders, that hasn’t translated into higher traffic or sales. Sears has posted only one quarter of positive same-store sales, considered a key gauge of performance, since Lampert merged Sears Roebuck & Co. and Kmart Holding Corp. in March 2005.