Updated from 7:28 a.m. EDT
For a retailer to stay alive the recipe is pretty simple: consistently grow sales and generate cash from operations.
Since Sears is having trouble doing both thanks to the rise of online competitors such as Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report , and bricks-and-mortar retailers like Target (TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report and Macy's (M) - Get Macy's Inc Report that have far superior shopping environments, it will now look to potentially unload assets.
Sears said its exploring options for its Kenmore, Craftsman, DieHard and Sears Home Services businesses. No transactions were announced but Sears said it wants to get the brands and services into more venues besides its own under-performing stores. Meanwhile, buried in its 10-Q filing, Sears disclosed it plans to sell at least $300 million of assets during the first half of the year to improve liquidity. The types of assets weren't disclosed, but it will likely entail unloading stores that Sears owns to mall operators or other entities.
Given another dreadful quarter for Sears, the news comes as little surprise.
Sears reported a first-quarter loss of $471 million on Thursday, wider than a year-earlier loss of $303 million. Adjusted for one-time items, Sears posted a loss of $199 million compared with a loss of $213 million a year go.
The horrendous results reflected weakness at both Sears and Kmart. Sears saw sales plunge 7.1% due to declines in home appliances, apparel, consumer electronics, footwear and Sears Auto Centers. Basically, the entire store. Sears sales severely lagged mall rivals Macy's and J.C. Penney (JCP) - Get J. C. Penney Company, Inc. Report which experienced 5.6% and 0.4% sales declines, respectively. Kmart's quarter was ugly in its own right. Same-store sales for the discount chain fell 5% amid drops in the consumer electronics, grocery and household, pharmacy, drugstore and home categories.
For a bit of perspective, Walmart's (WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report U.S. business delivered its seventh straight same-store sales increase in the first quarter, with sales up 1%. Target's same-store sales increased 1.2% as it notched its sixth consecutive quarter of increased customer traffic to its stores.
"Our operating performance still remains well below our goals," conceded Chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert in a statement, adding, "Our Sears Domestic and Kmart apparel businesses continue to be negatively impacted by a heavily promotional competitive environment."
But signs of failure at Sears weren't just evident on the top line and its appetite to extract cash from hard assets.
First, Sears continues to have problems generating cash from its shrinking retail store network. Cash flow from operations declined by $722 million in the first quarter due primarily to the company's steep loss. A year ago, Sears had a cash outflow of $535 million from its operations.
Second, the company announced that Chief Financial Officer Robert Schriesheim will be leaving the company to focus on his "other business interests and pursue other career opportunities." He will stay on until a replacement is announced.
Abruptly losing a finance chief is always a concern from an investor standpoint, but especially so for a company hanging on for dear life like Sears. Schriesheim has been the architect of the company's creative cash-raising efforts such as spinning off real estate to securing more debt by pledging valuable store assets. Considering he will be leaving at such a precarious time for Sears, and before the key holiday shopping season, is a major red flag.