On Thursday, the beleaguered department store retailer boasted that it actually swung to a profit in the second quarter from an ugly loss a year ago. Reported net income was $208 million, improved from a $573 million loss a year earlier. Investors were initially happy about the results, sending shares up about 2.8% in pre-market trading on Thursday, but were down over 3% after the market opened.
But, as Sears pointed out, there was about $464 million in income from "significant items" that boosted net income for the quarter. Excluding those items, Sears reported a net loss of $256 million, just slightly improved from the $293 million adjusted loss from a year earlier.
Another quarter of losses for Sears reflects disappearing sales, as consumers opt for competitors such as Wal-Mart (WMT) and Target (TGT) for better product selections and lower prices. Sears' top line is also coming under pressure as it continues to shutter hundreds of underperforming stores across the country. Reported net sales amounted to $6.2 billion, a decline of $1.8 billion year over year.
In a statement, Sears chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert touted the company's progress in transforming its business.
"During the quarter we completed many of the objectives we laid out to transform Sears Holdings from a traditional, store-network based retail business model to a more asset-light, member-centric integrated retailer leveraging our Shop Your Way platform," Lampert said.
He added that "the successful completion of these actions has positioned Sears Holdings for long-term success, and is consistent with our strategy to focus on our best stores, reward our best members and pursue our best categories as part of our transformation."
The primary action Lampert is referring to is its sale-leaseback transaction with Seritage Growth Properties (SRG), its recently formed real estate investment trust.
In the transaction, Sears sold 235 Sears and Kmart stores to Seritage along with Sears' 50% interests in separate joint ventures with Simon Property Group (SPG) General Growth Properties (GGP) and The Macerich Company (MAC) , which together hold an additional 31 Sears Holdings properties. Sears received aggregate gross proceeds of $2.7 billion from the transaction. The deal closed on July 7, giving the dying retailer a badly needed cash injection ahead of the all-important holiday season.
But despite Lampert's crafty maneuvers and the company's upbeat language, Sears at its core remains deeply troubled. TheStreet found three numbers that should warrant consideration from investors.
1. Sales at Sears stores plunge.
The lifeblood of any retailer is sales. Consistent sales growth is a sign a retailer has the right merchandise on the floor to meet a consumer's ongoing needs. A lack of sales growth over time suggests consumers are visiting competitors because they trust their prices and prefer their merchandise.
Sears notched yet another same-store sales drop in the second quarter, plunging 14%. The retailer saw alarming declines in almost every category it offers -- home appliances, apparel, lawn and garden, automotive, and consumer electronics. Sales of mattresses increased by an undisclosed amount.
By contrast, Sears' competitors at the mall fared much better in the quarter. J.C. Penney's (JCP) same-store sales rose 4.1% as it has regained customers thanks to improved private label apparel styles and a return to offering strong deals. Macy's (M) , although struggling in its own right, saw a 1.5% same-store sales decline in the quarter, but still far outperformed Sears.
2. Sales at Kmart stores also plunged.
The story at value-oriented Kmart was better than at Sears, but still not very good: Same-store sales declined 7.3%. Sales declines were reported in consumer electronics, grocery and household goods, apparel and the pharmacy. Home appliance and toy sales increased, according to the company.
As with Sears, not only did Kmart's sales fall, it badly underperformed key competitors. Target's second quarter same-store sales rose 2.4% due to more people visiting its stores. On a call with analysts on Aug. 19, Target execs touted strong sales of organic food, home goods and apparel.
At Wal-Mart, domestic same-store sales increased 1.5% as the world's largest retailer gained a little traction from efforts to bolster customer service.
3. Cash is going up in flames.
While Sears' cash coffers were stuffed by its recent REIT transaction, the core retailing business continues to hemorrhage cash. That is a worrying sign that suggests at some point, Sears will have to find more sources of cash to stay in business.
For the 26-week period that ended Aug 1., Sears' cash used in operations, which includes debt servicing, was $832 million, compared to $747 million a year earlier. According to a review of Sears' last three annual reports and its year-to-date cash flow statement, it has not produced cash flow from its operations in over four years.
That's a sore spot not lost on the company. "We intend to continue taking significant actions to alter our capital structure, as circumstances allow, to position Sears Holdings for success and profitability, which could include further reductions in debt or changes in the composition of our debt," said Sears CFO Rob Schriesheim in a statement.