It is time to speak the truth about
. All of the disaster scenarios
did not come true
. All of the stuff on TV and in the press about what was supposed to happen -- a true debacle -- didn't happen.
In fact, the opposite.
Now, I want you to put aside a couple of negatives: Eddie Lampert, a friend, who runs the company, should not have bought stock all the way up. That was a mistake. He admits it.
Put aside the fact that the stores may not be what you want to shop at. I have a nice one, but it is often empty. Forget for a moment that Lampert "missed the window" of selling lots of real estate at higher prices.
But let's look at what is happening here. Sears
in the fourth quarter. In fact, it made pretty much what it made last year. HOW MANY RETAILERS CAN CLAIM THAT?
Second, the debt that everyone was so worried about? Read the release: "We repaid all borrowings under our revolving credit facility as working capital needs declined as expected." That's what Eddie expected. It is
what the bears expected.
Third, sure the comps are down. But so are everyone else's. Yes, sales were boosted by "layaway" plans. But that's like a credit card, for heaven's sake. We accept the notion of credit cards, don't we? Comps may be down, but so is inventory. Impressively, actually.
Fourth, all of this was done
the rationalization of the store base. It took a while -- longer than I would like -- but Lampert is now ready to start closing underperforming stores. What would the comp stores look like without the bad ones? I bet substantially higher. Same with the overlap between Kmart and Sears.
Fifth, wasn't ESL Investments, the Lampert hedge fund, supposed to kill the stock of Sears with big redemptions? Wasn't Lampert on the ropes? Wasn't he supposed to be like
, or, for heaven's sake,
? Was he saving his hedge fund by "suspending redemptions," as the other guys -- the jokers -- did? No: he's fine. Long-term lockups. I would give him money if I were allowed. That's the highest compliment I can pay, as his long-term record is fantastic, and, excuse me, I still care about long-term records of hedge funds.
Finally, the balance sheet. Let's think about this. One-quarter of the market cap here is cash. ONE-QUARTER. The balance sheet is terrific. The buys of common stock this quarter were at $40 and change. There are only 120 million shares outstanding.
There is ample liquidity to continue to buy stock. You could argue that given how bad the consumer is, Lampert might be better off buying stock than putting more money in stores, which isn't working if you look at the other major retailers like
Sears also expects to make between $143 million and $243 million for the full year when we see the numbers reported for the quarter ending Jan. 31.
. If you listen to the endless parade of Sears-knockers, you would think it is losing money like so many of the retailers I follow. Now, Sears has the flexibility to close stores that are truly underperforming and the comp stores will go up vs. last year.
Now, what the heck happens if housing bottoms in 2009? What happens if things actually get
But let's leave that bullish scenario on the economy alone.
You have a company that could literally buy another 10 million shares here before this current buyback is completed. You can easily see this profitable company being worth $4 billion in market cap at some point.
I ask you, does that make sense?
Sure, the "multiple" is too high. Sure, the stores aren't what we want. Sure, the other guys are still taking share.
But do you think that the brands Kenmore, Diehard and Craftsman are worth nothing? Do you think the single biggest delivery service of hard goods in America is worth nothing?
How about this? DO YOU THINK CASH IS WORTH NOTHING?
Now, retail is struggling. I haven't liked retail in 18 months. It just isn't my thing.
But isn't it time to suggest that Sears isn't going out of business? Isn't it time to question, say, Sears vs.
? The latter is missing numbers, has a terrible balance sheet, bought back stock up huge and can't buy any down here. Why is Macy's so much better?
You never hear anyone knock Macy's
Here's the bottom line: The cottage industry of people who come on and say endlessly nasty things about Lampert and Sears should be questioning their thesis -- a nice way of saying they should move on.
You close the bad stores. You eventually get a turn in retail -- does anyone think that won't happen eventually? You get a company that at a certain point is worth more dead -- or to someone else -- than alive.
None of this is solace for those who bought the stock in the hundreds, including Lampert. But the critics never focus on the stock price. They focused on Lampert's strategy. It is time to ask, "Is his strategy creating any less value than the other guy?" How did you do, though, if you bought the much-beloved Target at $60? The universally beloved
at $82? The fantastic
at $38? A place where I do love to shop --
( JCG) -- when it traded at $50?
at $29? JC Penney at $51?
I never heard one bad word about any of those. None.
Am I asking for people to apologize to Lampert?
I am simply saying that if you listen to the critics, you would think that Lampert's stock has been far worse than all of the others. You would think that Sears is on the verge of bankruptcy. You would think that his biggest mistake was
not throwing money at the stores
. All are wrong!
I don't know about those guys. But I rest my case.
At the time of publication, Cramer had no positions in the stocks mentioned.
Jim Cramer is co-founder and chairman of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. To see his personal portfolio and find out what trades Cramer will make before he makes them, sign up for
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