Would Sears Bankruptcy Cost Tens of Thousands of Jobs?

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The numbers are brutal. Sears Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ: SHLD), parent of Sears and Kmart, has lost almost $4 billion over the past three years. In the most recent quarter, it lost another $900 million. Its shares are down 80% in the past five years. Fitch Ratings recently tagged it as a likely retail bankruptcy.

The company has 178,000 employees, and at the latest count 781 Sears locations and 981 Kmart locations. The parent already has closed stores, but with the massive bleeding of money, many of the stores left must lose money, which puts them at risk of closing in a bankruptcy.

Sharon Bonelli, Senior Director, Leveraged Finance at Fitch recently wrote, about Sears and six other retailers it examined, in “Retail Bankruptcy Enterprise Value and Creditor Recoveries: Fitch Bankruptcy Case Studies – 10th Edition”:

Brand degradation and competitive pressures to either price or experience can be real threats to the survival of struggling retailers.As a result, many retailers move into the bankruptcy process without a real reason to exist and ultimately end up in liquidation more often than bankrupt companies in other sectors.

Liquidation, in Sears case, would mean breaking hundreds of leases, selling off inventory and a wholesale dismissal of workers.

Or there might be another terrible way out. Research firm Green Street Advisors suggested the survival of Sears depends on closing half its stores:

Sears and J.C. Penney have been slow to reduce their footprints, despite plummeting revenues. Together, they cause the vast majority of the industry’s ‘sales productivity gap’ and continue to be the prime candidates for store closures.

Shuttering half of Sears locations would certainly mean the end to tens of thousands of jobs.

Will Sears declare Chapter 11 or Chapter 7? It depends on whether it wants to restructure or liquidate, to a large extent, or what its creditors want. Either way, the company’s employees will take the brunt of the decision.