Another unpopular Sears product: Its stock

The struggling retailer's share price is in a freefall as it continues its streak of quarterly losses.

By Jason Notte Nov 16, 2012 3:35PM

Sears store on in Milford, Connecticut Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesAs Sears and Kmart continue their march toward retail oblivion, the once-iconic stores are offering up yet another bunch of overpriced items nobody wants to buy: their shares.


Sears Holdings (SHLD) saw its stock price plummet nearly 19% on Friday after a disastrous Thursday earnings report that continues a string of losses stretching back five years. The company's net losses for the third quarter were close to $500 million, or nearly $80 million more than they were in the first quarter a year ago. Revenue was down 5.8% during that span to $8.86 billion, while same-store sales at Sears and Kmart fell 3.1%.


How does Sears Holdings feel shutting 120 Sears and Kmart stores this year, selling 11 stores to General Growth Properties (GGP), spinning off Sears Hometown, Outlet and Sears Canada stores and subdividing and subleasing its remaining active stores? Awesome, thank you very much.


"We had significant assets: some of the best brands in retail, over 200 million square feet of real estate, more than $5 billion of inventory already paid for, and the largest Home Services business, to name a few," Louis D'Ambrosio, chief executive of Sears Holdings, said during Thursday's earnings call. "We're here to translate those assets into value."


What D'Ambrosio didn't say Thursday is that Sears Holdings is licensing its "best brands" like Craftsman to Costco (COST) and Ace Hardware. It's putting an increasing amount of your 200 million square feet of real estate on the company's "realty" site and subdividing the stores it doesn't sell. It's shrinking inventory from $10.9 billion to $9.6 billion. Also, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Sears is considering outsourcing its appliance repair Home Services business to Lowe's (LOW) and other competitors.


All of this has put the company on track to generate $1.8 billion of liquidity, but it didn't make anybody on the earnings call utter the one word for what's happening to Sears Holdings: liquidation.


Whether that word enters the Sears Holdings lexicon or not, analysts seem certain it's exactly what's happening to the Sears and Kmart brands. For investors, it may not be occurring as quickly or effectively as they'd like. Sears Holdings' cash on hand dropped $754 million in January to $633 million last quarter, while company debt grew from $3.5 billion to $4 billion in the same span.


Despite new company-touted apparel and merchandise partnerships with Outdoor Life and "Modern Family" actress Sofia Vergara and a 20% jump in online business because of "buy online-pick up in store" options, almost none of Sears Holdings' recent losses are coming from investment into the company's retail operations. The company already spends a quarter of what competitors like Target (TGT) and Wal-Mart (WMT) spend on in-store improvement and upgrades. Instead, Sears Holdings is far busier dealing with real estate holdings and throwing an additional $200 million into its pension plan to offer a lump-sum settlement to former employees.


This plan of divesting yourself of employee obligations, leases, buildings and even brands while investing little into maintaining the core business only works if you're making money on the deal. Any good slumlord knows this. As evidenced by its most recent earnings and five years of losses, Sears Holdings hasn't been a great slumlord, employer or retailer in quite some time.


Now it's a bad investment, too.


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