Maybe Sears (NYSE:S) should have a brand called Toughtimes instead of Toughskins. Despite its fight to find its niche between the discounters and the upscale stores, the retailer is still floundering. The company said Thursday that fourth-quarter profits exploded, but it was from the sale of its credit card business. Meanwhile, it pared forward guidance.

Sears has done a lot of work in coming up with new and interesting initiatives to help it dress up for the holidays, as well as redesign itself as a power in retail. However, given the competitive and uneven response of consumers last holiday season, the company ended up being among the vanguard when it came to offering deep discounts to lure reluctant shoppers.

Just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal examined some difficulties with Sears' more upscale Lands' End brand, which may very well appeal to a different demographic than typically shops at the store. It's not too surprising, then, that news agencies reported that CEO Alan Lacy stated, "Contrary to external speculation, we continue to be very pleased with the brand."

Other than the idea that the brand may not fly off the shelves at Sears, the article noted aspects of the Lands' End brand that could confuse consumers, like charging a much higher price for a Lands' End item than a nearly identical piece from one of Sears' other brands.

As much as Sears might have had an underdog appeal a few months ago -- as it took on such discount behemoths as Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT), for example, by bulking up its toy presence through a partnership with KB -- things are beginning to look more risky than rewarding.

With fourth-quarter profit coming in at a whopping $2.75 billion based on its deal with Citigroup (NYSE:C), the results included a $4.1 billion pre-tax gain related to that sale alone.

But then, take into consideration Sears' expectation that 2004 revenues will grow in the single digits. It now expects first-quarter earnings of $0.09 to $0.14 per share with revenues flat or maybe a little higher, with full-year earnings of $3.60 to $3.80 per share. Both are well shy of analysts' expectations.

Another play for attention by Sears includes a new TV show, but maybe it has lost the plot. There could be a happy surprise at the end (not the end of this year, maybe), but if you're thinking of making a bet on Sears' turnaround, keep in mind that it's beginning to seem like maybe it's fast losing real-life relevance, to both its own and prospective customers.

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