Sizing up Sears

After record low mortgage rates in June and record home sales in July, what would you expect from August? Strong sales of home appliances, naturally. That was the news today from Sears (NYSE: S  ) , which reported that home appliance sales were tracking stronger than expected so far this month.

This is particularly good news for Sears considering that around 60% of its sales come from the home appliance category. In addition, Sears may finally break its ugly streak of 23 straight months of negative same-store sales. Earlier this month, the company called for flat same-store sales for August, but today's news signals better-than-expected comps.

Sears, the grandpa of retailers, was all but left for dead earlier this year, but has undergone a remarkable turnaround over the past few months. The big news came last month when the company sold its $29 billion credit card portfolio to Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) . That left Sears as a pure-play retail operation, with cash sufficient to pay off all its outstanding debt.

Now, a month later, the 870-store chain is proving it can effectively compete with other "white goods" retailers, including Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) , Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) , and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) . This transition hasn't escaped Wall Street's notice, of course, as shares have risen more than 100% since bottoming below $20 in March.

Sears stands as a case study of how a divestiture of a non-core business can unlock hidden value in a company. For investors who saw Sears' potential earlier this year, hats off to you. For those taking a new look at the stock today, now's probably a better time to wait and watch how Sears' progress plays out from here.

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