Hail Mary bid to save Sears stores

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sears CHICAGO — At presstime, Sears Holdings Corp. chairman Eddie Lampert submitted a revised bid in a last-ditch attempt to save the retailer from liquidation. The new bid, $5 billion for the retailer through his hedge fund ESL Investments, is adding about $600 million to a prior bid that should help ESL clear bars to a buyout set by a federal bankruptcy court, Lampert’s firm said in a regulatory filing.

ESL’s new bid includes as much as $166 million to pay stiffed suppliers, $139 million to cover expenses tied to the costly bankruptcy process and another $43 million for additional severance costs, the last of which was welcomed by worker advocates.

“By including severance payment, Lampert’s bid proves that retail employees’ organizing to fight for job security, severance and financial support is having a major impact on the bankruptcy process,” said United for Respect’s Rise Up Retail in a statement.

Sears is teetering on the edge of liquidation after the rejection of a previous offer from Lampert, whose hedge fund is Sears’ biggest shareholder and creditor. Lampert previously made a $4.4 billion bid to take over selected stores and keep them open but, so far, he has been unable to convince some of the other creditors that he could ever make Sears ­profitable again. If he doesn’t qualify, the only bidders left in the auction would be firms that are planning to shut Sears and Kmart and sell off the parts.

The hedge fund had a court-ordered deadline on January 9 to improve its offer and come up with $120 million to participate in an auction. Assuming Lampert’s latest offer gets the green light from creditors and the bankruptcy judge, he can go up against bidders looking to buy up to 505 stores, including 266 Sears outlets and 239 Kmart stores, through the bankruptcy process.

Some creditors have concluded that Sears is worth more to them dead than alive if the stores and other assets are auctioned off. U.S. bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain reminded Sears’ lawyers at a hearing earlier this month that the company has an obligation to review all its options, not just the offer from Lampert.

One obstacle could be the official committee of unsecured creditors, who said in court that they will continue to challenge the legitimacy of the liens underpinning the debt ESL holds. This could hobble Lampert’s bid, because he is offering to pay for Sears in part by trading some of those debts for ownership of Sears.



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