As of January 8, 2019, Sears (OTCMKTS: SHLDQ) has escaped what was thought a near-inevitable bankruptcy and liquidation. At the last minute, Sears and a bankruptcy court approved a deal with ESL, the hedge fund owned by ex-CEO Eddie Lampert. The deal is a slight modification of an original $4.4 billion bid submitted by Lampert in December 2018, and will keep 425 Sears stores open under certain conditions. The final terms of this revised bid are still unknown.
Lampert has until 4 p.m. on Wednesday to come up with the downpayment of $120 million - a preliminary condition. If this downpayment can't be met, then Sears is out of luck. Lampert's bid is the only one designed to keep the retailer open. It is still possible that those who want to bury Sears will outbid Lampert during an auction scheduled for Monday, January 14, thereby claiming rights to the Sears assets. These bidders would likely seek to liquidate the company upon winning. A bankruptcy court must approve the outcome of the auction by January 31.
Assuming the down payment is met and Lampert wins the auction, Sears still isn't entirely out of the woods. Lampert's deal requires the new Sears to borrow an additional $1.3 billion from three major banks. It remains unclear how much cash Lampert will pay for the assets he's bidding to save. Lampert's original bid contained a pledge to forgive the over $1 billion in debt that Sears owes ESL Investments. It is unclear whether the revised offer preserves these terms. Sears's creditors argue that debt forgiveness should not be included in the terms of the new bid, since Lampert made his loans to the company when he was its CEO. They also suspect that those loans were in fact beneficial to Lampert and his personal hedge fund, rather than being primarily in Sears's best interest. Lampert and his hedge fund both deny these accusations.
Those fighting to keep Sears open somewhat questionably claim that doing so will provide greatest value to the company's stakeholders, as opposed to liquidating and closing. They also highlight the company's long and storied history. Sears was once the leading retailer and the largest employer in the private sector nationwide. Today, Sears is also responsible for providing 50,000 American jobs.
Those who seek to end Sears's chapter in history maintain that staying in business any longer would only prolong the inevitable shutdown, and that a shutdown would be the best way to repay the money that Sears owes. Since 2010, the company has lost $12 billion. In recent years, it's also been pushed farther and farther from the spotlight as it loses ground to more technologically current rivals with lower prices and wider product selection, such as Amazon
Executive decisions have also cost the company. The Sears-Kmart merger took place under Lampert in 2005. Ever since, the company has lost $6 billion in share repurchases, a desperate strategy intended to support stock prices. Post-bankruptcy filing, Sears stock lost all of its value. Sears could only compete by closing stores and cutting costs. Meanwhile, it was unfortunately also unable to invest in upkeep and modernization, which resulted in bare shelves and unpleasant in-store environments characteristic of Sears and Kmart stores today. Without a drastic, near-miraculous turnaround very soon, those barren storefronts will be the defining image of Sears's final days.