Sears Eyeing Chapter 11 With Debt Payment Due

"This is the inevitable end game of an effective liquidation process that has been going on for many years," a retail analyst says.
Matthew HellerOctober 10, 2018

After years of financial maneuvering, Sears may be preparing to file bankruptcy as it faces a $134 million debt payment due Monday.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the embattled retailer had hired advisory firm M-III Partners to work on a potential filing while CNBC said Sears had contacted banks in recent days to line up “debtor-in-possession” operating capital.

Sears CEO Eddie Lampert had last month proposed a restructuring plan, saying the company needed to act “without delay” to reduce its $5.5 billion debt load and sell assets. He cited the looming $134 million debt payment.

But according to the Journal, Sears’ poor financial performance “has made it difficult to get support from lenders for the plan.” After closing several hundred stores in recent years, the company may have little collateral to secure loans.

“In our view, this is the inevitable end game of an effective liquidation process that has been going on for many years,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said in a client note.

“Throughout that time the sale of various assets along with injections of cash from Eddie Lampert have kept the ailing retailer from going under,” he wrote. “However, the activity is akin to bailing out water from a holed ship: It keeps the vessel afloat for longer but does nothing to sort out the underlying problem.”

Sears was once the nation’s largest retailer but as CNBC reports, it “has been in survival mode for more than a decade,” with the rise of online shopping presenting a formidable challenge to what was already an ailing business model.

Lampert’s hedge fund owns a controlling stake in Sears and his financial maneuvers have kept the company alive. Under his most recent proposal, Sears would shave $1.1 billion from its debt and sell about $1.5 billion in real estate and about $1.75 billion other assets.

Saunders said there was only a “slim chance” that Sears could avoid bankruptcy by reaching a restructuring deal. A Chapter 11 filing would give Sears a chance to reorganize as a smaller company but as USA Today reports, “retail bankruptcies are risky because many end up in liquidations.”

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