When Kmart acquired Sears (SHLD) in 2005, Chairman Edward Lampert said

Sears Tower Reflection

the new company would have the geographic reach and scale to compete with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The billionaire hedge fund manager has since presided over 18 consecutive quarters of declining sales. He’s on his fourth chief executive. While Sears Holdings Corp. shares soared in the first few months after the merger, they’ve fallen 55 percent in 2011 alone.

Sears “has been a mismanaged asset,” Gregory Melich, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment, said in a Bloomberg Television interview yesterday. “A lot of traditional department stores have reinvigorated themselves through merchandising, through changing their locations; you think of Macy’s. You haven’t seen that from Sears.”

Yesterday, the largest U.S. department store chain reported that it would close as many as 120 locations after same-store sales fell 5.2 percent in the eight weeks ended Dec. 25. By contrast, such sales in the department-store sector will climb an estimated 4 percent in November and December, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade group.

The shares plunged, falling 27 percent to $33.38 yesterday in New York, the largest drop since April 29, 2003.

Since becoming chairman in 2005, Lampert, 49, has reduced costs, closing 171 large U.S. stores and cutting the headcount by about 12 percent. Sears employed 312,000 people as of January, down from 355,000 in June 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Meanwhile, his hedge funds have made money on the original investment.

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