Sears’s Death Dance Is Allowed to Drag On
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Is there an expression for something even more last-minute than an eleventh-hour attempt? Because that’s where we are with Eddie Lampert’s efforts to save Sears Holdings Corp. from liquidation.
Lampert, the company’s chairman and major shareholder, will get yet another chance to keep alive the retailer he created when he orchestrated a merger of Sears, Roebuck & Co. with the Kmart chain more than a decade ago.
Bloomberg News reports that if Lampert is able to put forward a $120 million deposit by Wednesday, then he’ll be able to bid for Sears in a bankruptcy auction scheduled for next Tuesday. Lampert had previously lobbed a bid that would keep hundreds of Sears stores open and preserve many employees’ jobs.
I understand the desire of Sears’s board to consider all plans thoroughly, and also why it might be difficult for them to reject a rescue overture from Lampert, given that they’ve had a front seat to all his salvage efforts: the loans, the real estate spinoff, the asset sales — the list goes on and on.
Lampert’s camp has been wise to focus its public statements throughout the bidding process on all the jobs that are at stake. I’m sure that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the committee, and frankly, it’d be sort of monstrous if the fate of the company’s tens of thousands of workers didn’t factor into their decision-making. But this just feels like an act of desperation. In the end, even if Lampert wins the auction, I can’t conjure up a realistic sequence of events by which he turns Sears into a thriving retailer again. It’s not keeping pace in the e-commerce wars, and its stores are decrepit.
I can’t imagine this will do much to assure vendors that Sears is a safe long-term partner. And the company’s senior ranks already have been a revolving door. What retail visionary would come aboard this sinking ship now? With the Craftsman tools business already sold off and its once-exclusive Kenmore brand already on offer at Amazon.com Inc., there seem to be scarce opportunities remaining to wring money out of Sears by doing things other than making it a better retailer.
If Lampert ends up prevailing in the auction over liquidators, all it will do is rewrite the last chapter of a story whose epilogue has already been written. Sears doesn’t have a viable path to relevance.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Sarah Halzack is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She was previously a national retail reporter for the Washington Post.
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