Dead man walking Sears is in a 'perpetual state of decline'

The end is near for Sears, according to several analysts.

Sears said Thursday that its same-store sales fell 7.1% in the fourth quarter and revenue dropped 9.8% to $7.3 billion.

The company reported a quarterly loss of $580 million, or $5.44 per share, compared with a loss of $159 million, or $1.50 a share, the previous year.

Sears stores “now seem to be in a perpetual state of decline,” Neil Saunders, CEO at retail consulting firm Conlumino, wrote in a note to clients Thursday. “The underinvestment clearly shows and as such they are caught in a vicious cycle of seeing lower and lower customer traffic, which further weakens the case for investment and reinvigoration.”

Sears said earlier this month that it would accelerate planned closures of 50 stores to cut costs.

“It is very hard to see and end game other than the continued closure of large swathes of the store fleet over the medium to longer term,” Saunders wrote.

Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert says the retailer had a rough quarter because of warmer than expected winter weather.

“The weather conditions had a cascading effect on many retailers, leading to reduced spending and heavy discounting on winter clothing and related items,” Lampert wrote in a letter to shareholders on Thursday.

Lampert also said the retailer has been unfairly criticised.

“Because of Sears and Kmart’s longstanding history and cultural impact, we are targeted for criticism when our results are poor,” he wrote.

He acknowledged the disappointing performance, however, saying, “We will continue to take strong, difficult but necessary actions to reduce losses. We will have to think, work and move harder and faster.”

According to Evercore ISI analysts, a Sears recovery is unlikely.

Sears is no longer “viable as a retailer in its current form,” the analysts wrote in a recent note.
“Sears margins were worse than we thought as a tough retail climate accelerated margin decline. A liquidity event is a matter of when not if.”

The department store chain has been bleeding cash for years. It has been closing hundreds of stores and selling off real estate to stay afloat.

Sears’ same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, have fallen for the past five years.

The company’s shares have lost 60% of their value in the last year.

Analysts say Sears’ sales are declining because it’s losing some of its most loyal customers.

The department store has traditionally attracted female shoppers aged 55 and older, but that demographic is now choosing to shop elsewhere, according to a recent study by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

In fact, most women would now rather shop at Goodwill than at Sears, according to the survey.

“Quite literally, Sears shoppers are a dying breed,” Pam Goodfellow, an analyst for Prosper Insights & Analytics, writes in Forbes.

In women’s clothing alone, the share of shoppers who prefer Sears has dropped 53% from January 2006 to January 2016, the survey found.

Sears is also losing considerable ground in categories like sporting goods, linens and bedding, home improvement, and electronics.

It’s a “dire” situation for Sears, according to Goodfellow. As older shoppers leave Sears, the company is failing to attract new, younger customers, she writes.

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