Retirement Plans

PBGC OKs Sears Asset Sales for Pension Relief

The lifting of a "ring-fencing" restriction will allow the embattled retailer to raise $407 million to contribute to its underfunded pension plans.
Matthew HellerNovember 8, 2017
PBGC OKs Sears Asset Sales for Pension Relief

Sears has announced a deal with the federal pension insurance fund to ease its pension obligations as it seeks to boost liquidity amid a continuing sales slide.

Under the agreement with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the struggling retailer will be able to sell 140 properties that the agency had required it to put up as collateral against its underfunded pension plans.

The sales are expected to raise $407 million, which Sears would then contribute to the pension plans. In return for that contribution, it would be freed from making further contributions to the plans for approximately two years — other than a $20 million supplemental payment due next year.

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Sears’ remaining properties would also no longer be “ring-fenced” as collateral.

The company’s pension deficit totaled $1.73 billion for the period ended July 29. The PBGC reached an agreement with Sears about two years ago to try to protect its pension plans.

“This agreement with the PBGC is another positive step forward which, upon closing, will provide our company with financial flexibility while supporting our commitment to honor our obligations to the associates and retirees covered by the pension plans,” Sears CEO Eddie Lampert said in a news release,

“While the lower interest rate environment has had a significant, unfavorable impact on the pension plans’ funding, Sears Holdings has demonstrated its commitment to honoring this obligation,” he added.

The announcement of the deal Wednesday came as Sears also previewed its third-quarter earnings, reporting total same-store sales tumbled 15.3% during the period following an 11.9% drop in the previous quarter. Kmart comparable store sales were down 13.0%, while Sears comp sales declined 17.0%.

Sears also said it is expecting a net loss of between $525 million and $595 million, an improvement of about $190 million on the year-ago period. “The restructuring actions taken in the first three quarters of 2017, including closure of unprofitable stores, have resulted in meaningful improvement in our performance,” the company said.

But in trading Wednesday, its shares fell 6% to $4.70, bringing the year-to-date loss to 49%.

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