The promotional tagline unveiled last year at Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: SHLD ) was "Sears. Where it begins." Yet, "Where it begins to fall apart" might be a more appropriate slogan, if the quarterly comps numbers are any indication.
I've lost count of the number of quarters in a row Sears has failed to produce a single instance of rising same-store sales since it emerged from bankruptcy. When you hear that Sears is reporting its numbers, you take for granted they'll be low. The company cannot compete against Target (NYSE: TGT ) , Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) , and even J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) and Kohl's (NYSE: KSS ) .
Yes, most stores reported low holiday sales this time around. But Sears' problems are systemic -- comps fell 3.5% in November and December, and profits for the year were expected to be $350 million to $470 million, off about 50% from last year's $820 million earnings. There's not much hope left for the retail side of Sears, even with the legendary Eddie Lampert at the helm.
But the company boasts a portfolio of valuable brands and real estate. Its individual segments are worth far more than they are in their present conglomerate condition.
For example, Lampert could spin off its Kenmore or Craftsman brands and generate a cash flow to be used for better-returning investments, like its recent bid for Restoration Hardware. Rivals to these lines, such as Black & Decker (NYSE: BDK ) and Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR ) , carry market caps above $4 billion and $5.2 billion, respectively. Even if Sears' brands are experiencing depressed sales, they should fetch a pretty penny because these products enjoy strong brand recognition.
Sears' shares are trading at levels investors haven't seen for years. Comparing the company to fellow retailers, it sells at only a slight discount to both Target and Wal-Mart. But Sears has a wealth of real estate that adds significant value to the company.
Still, these assets are depreciating, and market values for land and buildings won't be heading higher any time soon. The only hope this company has is for Lampert to work his magic. Problem is, in this retail and real estate environment, there's just no rabbit, and the hat's holdings are fading.
Read these and you'll find there's been no magic at Sears for awhile: