No Future in Sight for Sears Holdings

Does anyone still shop at Sears? 

If you've been tracking comps trends over the past few years, you'd be pondering the same question. Sears' parent company, Sears Holdings (Nasdaq:  SHLD  ) , continued on its seemingly endless streak of declining same-store sales in the second quarter and this time reported a 6.2% drop. I'm amazed I haven't lost count by now, given the number of quarters I've had to track, but the company has completed a full three-year period without a single instance of comps gains.

Of course, that was only the beginning of the company's problems. Earnings per share of $0.50 got an artificial boost of $0.29 from a one-time item for an overturned jury award. Without that gain, profits were just $0.21 per share, well below analyst expectations and abysmally lower than last year's earnings posting of $1.15 per share. Let's also not ignore that there were 5.6 million fewer shares outstanding this quarter (or 22 million fewer than last year) -- Sears Holdings spent nearly another half a billion dollars buying back shares as they've steadily fallen in value.

Even the government stimulus checks weren't enough to help out. While the sequential quarterly decline in same-store sales improved slightly (comps fell more than 8% in the first quarter, a suggestion that perhaps a few people absentmindedly wandered into a Sears store this time around), Sears Holdings just can no longer compete effectively against Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) or mid-level retailers such as J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) and Kohl's (NYSE: KSS  ) .

With a cash hoard that's being depleted as Sears Holdings continuously dips into it to buy back shares, it's becoming more apparent that there is no plan in place to make the once-venerable Sears name a viable retailer again. The stores remain tired, some deplorably so, and though I thought marketing improved a bit this quarter, you're not going to get people to part with their dollars in any appreciable amount if they're fatigued just going into the stores.

Perhaps the deal with rap star LL Cool J will inject the stuffy retailer with a bit of coolyo. With Martha Stewart leaving Kmart in 2010, maybe Eddie Lampert is thinking of positioning her possible replacement, Jaclyn Smith, next to LL in an ad that would be reminiscent of Martha's Macy's (NYSE: M  ) ad being fawned over by singer Usher.

In reality, there doesn't seem to be anything on the horizon that can provide any respite from the tide of bad news that's been rising up against Sears Holdings. Nor does the company itself expect any good news, as its guidance says investors can expect more of the same for the rest of the year.

Shares are down 12% so far this year and more than 37% over the past 12 months. Since reaching an all-time high of around $191 back in early 2007, Sears Holdings' stock has fallen by nearly half. Where are the catalysts to turn the company around? Nobody has stated a clear vision -- and nothing suggests that there even is a vision.

This is not a retailer on sale -- it's one that's being marked "return to vendor." Investors would be wise to apply for a refund.

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Wal-Mart Stores and Sears Holdings are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Wal-Mart but has no financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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