The Next Sears Spinoff Could Be a Great One

As the company's retailing business continues to flounder, strategic alternatives remain a viable method of delivering value to shareholders. While not all of Sears is desirable, the auto segment holds appeal.

Jun 6, 2014 at 10:34AM

Amid the brutal profit performance in Sears Holdings' (NASDAQ:SHLD) last reported quarter, Chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert quietly reminded investors that management is constantly considering non-operating business methods of increasing shareholder value. For the past few years, this has taken the form of spinoffs and asset sales, in addition to tapping the debt markets. As the company continues to try to turn around the retail business, more spinoffs and asset sales are likely to keep Sears' financial staying power. One of the pending segments to be disposed of is Sears Canada -- a somewhat unappealing business beyond real estate value. Another recently mentioned one is much more exciting: Sears Auto Centers.

The pitch
As opposed to many of Sears' operating businesses, the Auto Centers actually play into a growing industry. As vehicles get more technologically complicated, owners are more inclined to visit mechanic shops instead of pursuing do-it-yourself options. Sears Auto Centers already have a tremendous presence on the U.S. map with more than 700 locations. What's better is that the Auto Center strategy is in the midst of a shift to a franchised-based model -- in line with Sears' overall goal of becoming a less asset-intensive business.

A franchise model would allow Sears to do what it does best -- collect rent and royalties. The reason for a spinoff would be to shore up additional liquidity at Sears Holdings and allow the Auto Centers to operate even more independently from the department stores, though many are already stand-alone operations. In a business largely restrained by a sinking retail segment, the Auto Centers are profit centers.

A business you want to be in
Basic mechanic shops may sound like a relatively boring business to own, but tell that to Advance Auto Parts (NYSE:AAP). The auto part retailing giant has put a tremendous focus on building out a portfolio of mechanic shops to address what it says are quickly shifting industry trends. When the company made its $2 billion acquisition of General Parts, which made it the biggest auto parts provider in the nation, a big part of the strategy was the acquisition of nearly 1,400 Carquest locations -- repair shops. The commercial-repair segment now accounts for more than half of Advance Auto Parts' sales.

Advance Auto Parts has been a market darling for years, enjoying triple-digit gains over a five-year period, and holding a forward P/E of more than 15. Sears Auto Centers, a smaller business, but a pure play on the trend that Advance Auto Parts is pursuing, could command similar attention as a stand-alone business, before factoring in the benefits of a franchise-based model.

If a spinoff occurs, existing Sears Holdings investors would likely receive the distributions in a similar manner to the company's previous spinoffs. While it is not, in itself, a reason to buy Sears Holdings, special-situations investors should remain closely tuned in to the story.

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Michael Lewis owns shares of Sears Holdings. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

A Financial Plan on an Index Card

Keeping it simple.

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:26AM

Two years ago, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack wrote his entire financial plan on an index card.

It blew up. People loved the idea. Financial advice is often intentionally complicated. Obscurity lets advisors charge higher fees. But the most important parts are painfully simple. Here's how Pollack put it:

The card came out of chat I had regarding what I view as the financial industry's basic dilemma: The best investment advice fits on an index card. A commenter asked for the actual index card. Although I was originally speaking in metaphor, I grabbed a pen and one of my daughter's note cards, scribbled this out in maybe three minutes, snapped a picture with my iPhone, and the rest was history.

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I love the exercise, because it makes you think about what's important and forces you to be succinct.

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Everything else is details. 

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