Sears, once a retail titan, files for chapter 11 bankruptcy

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A empty Sears shopping cart inside a store in Brooklyn, New York, US. Reuters

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Sears Holdings Corp filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy yesterday with a plan to close 142 more stores, throwing into doubt the future of the century-old retailer that once dominated US malls but has withered in the age of internet shopping.

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The Chapter 11 filing to reorganize debts of the parent of Sears, Roebuck and Co and Kmart Corp follows a decade of revenue declines, hundreds of store closures, and years of deals by billionaire chief executive officer Eddie Lampert in an attempt to turn around the company he bought in 2004.

Mr Lampert had pledged to restore Sears to its glory days, when it owned the tallest building in the world and companies that included a radio station and Allstate insurance.

But the company has not turned a profit since 2011, and critics say Mr Lampert let the stores deteriorate over the years, even as he bought the company’s stock and lent it money. It has sold off the legendary Craftsman brand and is considering an offer from Mr Lampert for the Kenmore appliance name.

The company listed $6.9 billion in assets and $11.3 billion in liabilities in documents filed in the US Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York.

The bankruptcy filing was sparked by a standoff between Mr Lampert, the company’s biggest shareholder and lender, and a special board committee, over a rescue plan proposed by Mr Lampert.

Under the bankruptcy plan, Mr Lampert’s executive role will be replaced by a three-person committee, though he will remain as chairman of the board. Mohsin Meghji, a managing director of the M-III Partners corporate advisory firm, was appointed chief restructuring officer.

Shareholders generally lose their investment when a company files for bankruptcy, and the fate of Sears itself will depend on the willingness of creditors and suppliers to keep the company afloat.

The largest US toy retailer, Toys ‘R’ Us, tried to emerge from its 2017 bankruptcy filing but was forced to liquidate six months later after creditors lost confidence in its turnaround plan.

Sears said it will sell assets and begin closing 142 unprofitable stores by year-end with the aim of reorganizing around a smaller platform of around 700 of its best stores.

It is also weighing the sale of “a large portion” of its stores and said they could be bought by Mr Lampert’s hedge fund in a bankruptcy auction.

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