Sears to Explore Options for Kenmore, Craftsman, DieHard

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Sears Holdings Corp. (Nasdaq: SHLD) plans to consider options for its Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands as well as its Sears Home Services repair business, signaling that the unprofitable retailer may again be turning to asset sales to generate cash amid continued losses.

The company will “aggressively” evaluate all alternatives for the businesses and has hired Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) and LionTree Advisors to assist in the efforts, according to a statement Thursday. Sears also reported that its first-quarter net loss expanded to $471 million, or $4.41 a share, and said chief financial officer Robert Schriesheim plans to leave the company.

As Mergers & Acquisitions has reported previously, Sears has made several recent moves to enhance liquidity, including selling assets, closing stores and paying down existing debt with a new $750 million term loan (a step that received mixed reviews). Many retailers are struggling to adapt to changing shopping trends, such as striking a balance between e-commerce services and brick-and-mortar stores, Sports Authority Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection in early March, following the 2015 filing of American Apparel Inc. We expect to see continued consolidation and bankruptcies ahead in the retail sector.

With Sears stores showing little sign of a revival, chief executive officer Edward Lampert may again be looking to sell off parts of the company to bring in cash. Lampert -- a hedge fund manager who’s also the retailer’s chairman and largest shareholder -- already has hived off the Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores business and Lands’ End clothing brand, while also selling off store locations and moving others into a real estate investment trust.

The Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands “are beloved by the American consumer, and we believe that we can realize significant growth by further expanding the presence of these brands outside of Sears and Kmart,” the company said. The home-services business also “has greater potential than what we have delivered in the past.”

The brands under review -- Kenmore appliances, Craftsman tools and DieHard auto batteries -- are staples found in many American households, and a key asset inside Sears. Yet their sales have been slipping, even after Sears hired a licensing agent in 2012 to offer them outside of Sears and Kmart stores. In September, Sears named Tom Park to run the unit in charge of the brands.

Lampert also has been building up the company’s digital and loyalty programs in a quest to turn the department-store business around after five years of losses. He has said he envisions a leaner retailer with fewer and smaller stores.

Yet 11 years after Lampert merged Kmart and Sears Roebuck & Co., both chains continue to lose money and shoppers, with first-quarter sales slipping 8.3 percent to $5.39 billion. Lampert told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting earlier this month that his goal is to return to profitability this year, though he declined to forecast that the company would meet that target. Turning around Sears isn’t easy, he said, likening it to efforts to close the U.S. military’s prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Even the spinoff of a chunk of Sears’s vast real estate holdings, long an enticement to investors, hasn’t boosted the stock. Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Sears, which once fetched a triple-digit price, closed at $12.52 on Wednesday, down 39 percent this year.

“Our Sears Domestic and Kmart apparel businesses continue to be negatively impacted by a heavily promotional competitive environment,” Lampert said in Thursday’s statement. “We continue to focus on improving the overall performance of these businesses through changes to our assortment, sourcing, pricing and inventory management practices.”

Schriesheim will leave to focus on his other business interests and pursue other career opportunities, Sears said. He agreed to stay in the job until a replacement is hired.

--Additional reporting by Mergers & Acquisitions’ Mary Kathleen Flynn

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