Struggling Sears reports bigger quarterly loss, lower sales

Sears Holdings Corp. tried to reassure investors Thursday that financial maneuvers — closing stores, selling assets and slashing inventory — mean it still has enough cash available to run its business.

The Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company, which operates Kmart and Sears, said it has raised $2.2 billion so far this year. Still, Sears' third-quarter loss widened on a 13-percent revenue decline.

The report shows the challenges continue for billionaire hedge fund manager Edward Lampert, who is Sears Holdings' CEO and chairman, in turning around the company.

Lampert combined Sears and Kmart in 2005, about two years after he helped bring Kmart out of bankruptcy. But the combination has proved unsuccessful. The company is on track to post its eighth annual revenue drop and its fourth annual loss when it reports its fourth-quarter results early next year.

The company's biggest albatross remains its stores, which have been criticized for being outdated and shabby.

So far this year, the company has announced or closed about 235 underperforming stores, the majority of which are Kmart stores. Several Indianapolis stores, including the Sears at Washington Square Mall and three Kmarts, were among the planned closures.

The company says it has more than 1,830 Sears and Kmart stores and is hoping that those shoppers will remain with the brand by going online. The chain had a total of 3,523 stores five years ago.

"Our stores are often in the wrong place and are often too large for our needs," Lampert said in a prerecorded conference call for investors early Thursday.

To prop up its operations, Sears took out a $400 million short-term loan from a hedge fund run by Lampert in September. Sears is selling most of its 51-percent stake in its Canadian unit to raise as much as $380 million in a rights offering. It also spun off its Lands' End business earlier this year.

Sears reiterated Thursday it is might sell 200 to 300 of its buildings to boost its liquidity. The maneuver would entail forming a real estate investment trust that would hold the stores. Sears would continue to operate the stores by leasing them back.

At the same time, the company is shifting its focus from running a store network to operating an online and offline business tied together by its Shop Your Way loyalty program. The company said that during the third quarter, its Shop Your Way program accounted for 72 percent of eligible sales, the same as last year's third quarter.

For the period ended Nov. 1, the company lost $548 million, or $5.15 per share. A year earlier it lost $534 million, or $5.03 per share.

Revenue dropped 13 percent, to $7.21 billion.

Online sales climbed about 9 percent from a year ago.

Sales at Kmart locations open at least a year rose 0.5 percent in the third quarter. The figure dipped 0.7 percent at Sears stores.

This same-store figure is a key gauge of a retailer's health because it excludes volatile results from stores recently opened or closed.

Sears said Thursday that its long-term debt has declined slightly, to $2.8 billion from $2.9 billion a year earlier. To date, the company has $2.2 billion in liquidity for fiscal 2014. It had about $1.5 billion available under its credit facility as of Wednesday.

Shares of Sears fell more than 6 percent, or $2.14, to $32.11 each in morning trading Thursday.

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