Sears Bankruptcy Filing Is Inevitable

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The imminent bankruptcy of Sears Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ: SHLD) can only be a surprise to someone who has been living under a rock for the past few years. Thousands of Sears and Kmart stores have been closed and the company has sold off all of its most valuable brands. The only thing left is debt, and the only outfit that wants that is Sears CEO Edward S. Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments.

ESL has lent Sears cash for some time now and is one of the company’s major lenders, as well as its biggest shareholder after Lampert himself. The immediate problem: Sears has $134 million of debt maturing on Monday and no way of paying it.

Earlier this week, Sears added restructuring veteran Alan Carr to its board of directors, and The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Sears had hired M-III Advisors to help prepare a bankruptcy filing that could come by the end of this week.

Sears’s history goes back to the late 19th century, and the company’s catalog business in the first third of the 20th century predated Amazon’s online catalog business today. The company simply could not keep pace with the 21st century.

The stores that are left have fewer customers, practically invisible market share and an irrelevant brand. As one retail industry analyst told CNBC, “The firm simply has no reason to exist.”

A bankruptcy reorganization will no doubt result in the closure of even more stores, some sitting on Sears-owned real estate and some not. Employee pension commitments almost certainly will take a hit as well, although the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will limit the damage. And then there will be those Sears employees who lose their jobs.

The stock hit a new 52-week low of around $0.35 early Wednesday morning, compared with a 52-week high of $6.83. There’s nowhere to go from here except down.