Sears cashes out in Canada

HOFFMAN ESTATES — Sears, sorely in need of cash, is selling most of its stake in its Canadian unit to raise as much as $380 million through a rights offering.

The sale of the majority of its 51 percent stake in Sears Canada Inc. to its own shareholders will give the retailer some breathing room as it heads into the crucial holiday season.

The sale of its Canadian stake follows previous measures to shore up its finances. Sears said Thursday that it will evaluate its capital structure over the next six to 12 months and may take other actions to create more financial flexibility.

The company board approved a rights offering of up to 40 million shares of Sears Canada Inc. Sears will still hold about 12 million shares of Sears Canada, valued at about $113 million.

The rights offering comes after Sears failed to find a buyer the announcement last week that Douglas Campbell, the president and CEO of the Canadian division, would leave at the end of the year.

Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert plans to fully exercise his subscription rights. ESL Investments Inc., of which Lampert is also chairman and CEO, will do the same.

The retailer, based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, expects at least $168 million in proceeds from the rights offering in mid-to-late October, with the rest by early November.

The proceeds from the rights offering, in combination with a $500 million dividend tied to the spinoff of Lands’ End, $165 million in proceeds from some real estate transactions and a $400 million short-term loan, will provide Sears Holdings with up to $1.45 billion in liquidity in fiscal 2014, according to Chief Financial Officer Rob Schriesheim.

Still, the challenges facing Lampert are enormous. The company has been cutting costs, reducing inventory and selling assets to return to profitability. Its biggest albatross remains its stores, which many critics say are outdated and shabby.

The company’s losses are mounting. For the quarter ended Aug. 2, Sears lost $573 million, up drastically from $194 million in the year ago period. That brought the company’s losses for the second half of the current fiscal year to $975 million.

Lampert, a billionaire hedge fund investor, combined Sears and Kmart in 2005 about two years after he helped bring Kmart out from under bankruptcy protection.

The company has since faced mounting pressure from nimbler rivals like Wal-Mart Stores and Home Depot.

Sears is also facing broader issues that are tripping up many other retailers. Like other stores catering to the low- to middle-income customers, Sears is grappling with a slowly recovering economy that’s not benefiting all Americans equally. It also trying to catch up to customers who are steering clear of stores and shopping online.

Sears recently announced that it was taking out a $400 million secured short-term loan from entities allied with Lampert’s ESL Investments.

Credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings called the loan a short-term fix for a “much larger need” of cash and downgraded Sears’ credit rating deeper into junk status.

Greg Melich, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group LLC, wrote Thursday that Sears is “on a glide path to be out of cash by the middle of 2015 without additional asset sales or liquidity initiatives.”

Company shares are trading near three-year lows.


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