Sears, Roebuck (NYSE: S) is the latest casualty of weakened consumer spending, announcing third-quarter earnings will be below expectations. The retailer's stock was down over 12% today, with shares trading near a 52-week low.

Sears now says it'll earn between $0.80 and $0.82 a share for the quarter just ended in September, putting it roughly even with last year. Analysts were looking for $0.86 a share. The company reaffirmed its guidance of $5.15 for the fiscal year, though some optimistic analysts had been hoping for $5.27.

This news from the retailer isn't particularly shocking. It posted a worse-than-expected August comps decline last month, on top of weak comps results from July. Further, given Wal-Mart's(NYSE: WMT)dismal September outlook, we can't imagine Sears' business was banging in September, either.

The company's also flinching from some self-inflicted pain. It's remodeling and updating many stores, and that upheaval has hurt sales. The disruptions reached their zenith in the third quarter, and should be less of an issue in the future.

The challenge for Sears is to capitalize on its vital fourth quarter, which would keep it on track for a better year, overall, than last year. Store remodels should help, as should the integration of Land's End, which the company bought in June. Clothing and other soft goods have been a sore spot for quite awhile, but the Land's End buy should help significantly.

It's still uncertain whether the environment, at large, will cooperate with Sears. Many industry watchers don't foresee a hardy holiday shopping season. The West Coast ports lockout could affect the retailer's fourth quarter, should it continue, and a war with Iraq could keep already nervous shoppers away from stores.

Rising consumer debt levels and increasing late payments could also hurt Sears, since it gets about 60% of its operating profits from its consumer credit division. It has already seen its receivables and allowances for doubtful accounts rise about 10% in the third quarter.

Sears is in the same boat as most other retailers right now, with the tide so low they can see the sand eroding beneath them. For shareholders, that means even more patience, as they drift along for the ride.