Generations of Americans grew up with Sears retail stores as a part of their lives. The brand was ubiquitous in every mall and shopping center, and their catalogs were a presence in every family’s mailbox. But now, times are changing, and the traditional way of shopping is rapidly evolving. For Sears, the end may be near. According to The New York Times, the retailer’s biggest investor is sounding the alarm as the company faces a serious risk of going bankrupt.
Edward Lampert, who is both the CEO of Sears and an influential shareholder and lender through his hedge fund, ESL Investments, told the Times this week that the company is in dire financial trouble and needs to drastically restructure its debts if it wants to stay afloat. Sears is currently struggling with a $5.6 billion debt load, and Lampert is considering a range of options for dealing with the problem. He’s reportedly weighing selling off store locations, asking lenders to exchange Sears debts for equity in the company, and simply filing for bankruptcy.
It’s clear that whatever Sears chooses to do, it must do so quickly.
“Sears must act immediately to have sufficient runway to continue its transformation,” ESL Investments said in a statement.
Lampert is in an unusual position with respect to Sears’ financial troubles. He’s the chief executive of the company, but because he controls ESL, he also holds roughly 40 percent of Sears’ debt, which means he could potentially lay claim to many of the company’s assets. By filing for Sears’ bankruptcy, Lampert could be reducing the amount of debt that he himself could recover—as well as squandering countless more dollars in fees to lawyers and advisers. He clearly has an incentive to resolve Sears’ problems without the company going bankrupt.
It’s unclear what course of action Lampert should choose, but some sort of corporate restructuring is clearly necessary sooner rather than later.
“We are ready and willing to move as quickly as possible to help the company transform into a business that is better positioned to thrive in the 21st century,” ESL stated.