NEW YORK – Eddie Lampert and his ESL Holdings hedge fund are offering to buy the rest of Sears for up to $4.6 billion in cash and stock in a move to stave off liquidation.
The Sears chairman and ESL founder own just under half of the Hoffman Estates, Illinois, company, according to FactSet. Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, weighed down by years of declining sales and massive debt. It then said it would shutter 142 unprofitable stores in the hopes that it could stay in business.
ESL Holdings said in a regulatory filing Thursday its nonbinding offer for the roughly 500 remaining Sears stores will keep about 50,000 employees working. The offer is subject to due diligence and ESL’s ability to get financing, among other things.
“ESL believes that a future for Sears as a going concern is the only way to preserve tens of thousands of jobs and bring continued economic benefits to the many communities across the United States that are touched by Sears and Kmart stores,” the firm said in a prepared statement.
The pace of the deterioration has been rapid.
As recently as 2012 the company operated 4,000 Sears and Kmart stores. Including the closings after the bankruptcy filing, Sears would have just over 500 functioning locations left.
As of the bankruptcy filing, the company employed about 68,000 people.
The ESL bid follows a series of moves that Lampert has offered to salvage the company over the past few years. And it comes as it’s lacking support from many vendors who have been reluctant to work with Sears as they fear they won’t get paid.
“I think he has a plan whether it will be evident or not to us,” said David Tawil, president and co-founder of Maglan Capital, which follows distressed companies. “Whether that plan will be successful, I don’t know.”
Robin Lewis, a New York-based retail consultant, questioned whether Lampert is honestly trying to save the business and bring it out of bankruptcy.
“If he is successful in doing so, the first person he should fire is himself,” Lewis said. “He will continue to destroy it and it will be right where it was.”
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