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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sears begins exploring sale of Kenmore, other divisions

A man walks in front of a Sears sign in San Bruno, Calif., on March 28, 2018. (Associated Press)
By Lauren Zumbach Chicago Tribune

Sears is considering selling its popular Kenmore appliance brand and other divisions after the hedge fund run by CEO Edward Lampert expressed interest in buying them and breaking up the company.

Sears’ board is beginning a formal process to explore the sale of three pieces of the business Lampert’s ESL Investments expressed interest in acquiring: Kenmore, the home improvement business of the Sears Home Services Division, and the Parts Direct business of Sears Home Services, the retailer said Monday.

As of Monday morning, Sears’ shares shot up about 6 percent over last week’s closing price.

Sears Holdings Corp. has been exploring alternatives for those businesses – as well as the Craftsman tools and DieHard battery brands – for nearly two years, saying it believes they have room to grow by expanding their reach beyond Sears. But after failing to find a buyer for assets other than Craftsman, ESL told Sears in a letter last month it should “aggressively pursue divestiture” of all or some of those businesses.

ESL had also offered to buy certain Sears real estate assets, including debt, and continue to lease the properties to Sears or other entities.

Sears’ board has established a committee to evaluate ESL Investments’ proposal and seek other offers for Kenmore and the other divisions, the retailer said.

ESL previously said it would not purchase the businesses unless the deal was recommended by the committee and approved by a majority of disinterested shareholders. The investment firm also said Lampert and Kunal Kamlani, president of ESL and a member of Sears’ board, would not participate in sale discussions on behalf of Sears unless specifically asked to do so.

Sears has racked up more than $10.8 billion in losses over the past seven years, and any sales would give it a new source of funds as it works to restructure and slash costs. In the letter last month, ESL valued the Parts Direct and home improvement division at $500 million. It did not provide a valuation of the Kenmore brand but offered to submit a proposal.

If Sears does carve out any pieces of the business it’s considering selling, they won’t be the first. Since 2015, Sears has spun off the Lands’ End brand, sold Craftsman to Stanley Black & Decker, and sold 235 stores to real estate investment trust Seritage Growth Properties, in which Lampert holds a stake and serves as chairman of the board.

Transactions announced since the start of 2017 – including loans from ESL and its affiliates – added up to more than $1.8 billion in additional capital, according to a March report from Moody’s Investors Service.

Sears declined to comment further. In an email, ESL said its main interest is getting the most value for Sears, regardless of whether it ends up being the buyer.

“This will enable Sears to improve its debt profile and liquidity position, creating the runway to help continue its transformation, and allow these businesses to unlock their considerable potential by further expanding their presence in the marketplace. We are very enthusiastic about our ownership interest in Sears and its future, and will remain so whether or not a transaction is consummated,” ESL said in the statement.