Sears: The Break-Up Plan Continues Without Any Payoff For Equity Holders

Sears Holdings (SHLD) continues its unofficial, informal break-up plan as it struggles to maintain adequate liquidity amid a money-losing core business. The company’s stock is the largest loser in the S&P 500 today as first quarter results showed EBITDA of about break-even. Chairman and majority shareholder Eddie Lampert has assumed the CEO position, but without any direct retail experience even a very smart investor is unlikely to lead a successful turnaround.

The latest tidbit from Sears is that they are contemplating a sale of their asset protection business. Sears is one of the only large retailers that actually offers extended warranties in-house (as opposed to partnering with a financial services company), giving it another asset it could sell or spin-off in order to realize value for shareholders. The company publicly stated yesterday that it believes the business to be worth in excess of $500 million. While breaking up Sears Holdings is the right decision for shareholders, several of the company’s first moves in that realm have not really helped boost the share price, mainly because the underlying business is so bad that all sale proceeds (Sears Hometown and Outlet Store spin-off, Orchard Supply IPO, Sears Canada share sale, etc) are merely offsetting those losses and not adding any value on a per-share basis.

Even after today’s drubbing, Sears’ stock still has a total market value of $5 billion. Add in nearly $3 billion of net debt and I simply cannot justify an $8 billion enterprise value for Sears Holdings in its current form. Not only that, but the company keeps selling off its most profitable segments (because the other ones aren’t profitable, read: valuable), which leaves them with a set of even more unattractive assets on a relative basis.

While I do not want to invest in SHLD common shares at $48 a share (it would have to drop into the 30’s for me to become even mildly intrigued), I think the company will slug along for many more years. As a result, the company’s debt may be a much smarter investment than the common shares. Long-term debt excluding leases totals about $1.6 billion. The majority of that consists of $1.24 billion of 2018 senior notes that pay a coupon of 6.625% per year. At current prices, Sears’ long-term debt yields about 7%, which is a very solid return for a five-year debt security.

Full Disclosure: Long Sears long-term debt securities at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time