So what: Sears' skid during September follows a fairly sharp rise of 24% from the previous month. The retailer's shares are being batted back and forth between investors' hopes and fears as it continues to struggle to stabilize its business. In September, implications of the company's fiscal second-quarter 2015 report, released in late August, began to sink in.
The most eye-opening aspect of Sears' earnings was the speed with which the resources from real estate transactions completed during the second quarter were used up. Sears received over $2.6 billion, net of transaction costs, through sale-leaseback transactions with its real estate investment trust spinoff Seritage Growth Properties (NYSE:SRG).
Of this amount, Sears managed to squirrel away roughly $1.5 billion to cash on the balance sheet. But most all of the rest was consumed by negative operational cash flow and the paying down of roughly $800 million of short-term borrowings.
While the cash represents something of a cushion (Sears had $1.8 billion of cash on hand as of Aug. 1), it's no panacea for the retailer's ongoing losses. Add back $633 million of gain from various real estate transactions, and Sears shows an operational loss of $712 million in the first two quarters of the fiscal year, on $12.1 billion in sales. This translates into a cash burn from operations of $832 million during the period.
At that rate, it won't take terribly long to work through the replenished cash coffers. And now that it's completed the sale-leaseback deals with Seritage, as well as a financing transaction of $426 million through three new real estate joint ventures earlier this year, Sears' total property and equipment on its books is currently down to $2.7 billion, from $5.1 billion this time last year. There's only so much real estate left to sell to raise cash and buttress operations.
Now what: The holiday shopping season is almost upon us, and this year it will be critical for Sears. With its extra bit of ready-money, the company theoretically should have some leeway to find the right merchandising mix and incentivize customers to shop in earnest during the next three months. It will be early 2016 before investors can get a full picture of how this important season falls out for Sears. Above all, the company will need to show some progress on revenue and profitability, as its outside funding options are quickly dwindling.