Focusing on tangible assets has served us over many years, but most believe Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) to be the exception to the rule. Disruptive technologies; near-zero cost of capital; and few, if any, legacy obligations provide young competitors with great advantages over old-line operators. Today, Airbnb is the largest lodging company in the world without owning a single hotel room. Uber is the world’s largest taxi company without owning a car (and perhaps soon without utilizing a single driver). Intuit’s Rocket Mortgage lends only via the net. Amazon crushes competition without a physical retail footprint. Mega-tech companies are now trusted in all aspects of personal and corporate life. I’m reminded of this every day by my Fairholme team, our clients, fellow directors at Sears, and friends.
Bottom line: Sears has degraded net asset values, but there is still much left and the company is fixing its cash drain. Recent corporate announcements – including (i) the proposed sale of Craftsman to Stanley Black and Decker for a cumulative $775 million plus a 15-year royalty stream on all third-party Craftsman sales to new customers and the use of a perpetual license for the Craftsman brand by Sears (royalty free) for 15 years; (ii) shuttering 150 unprofitable stores in 2017 on top of the roughly 235 stores that were closed in 2016; and (iii) marketing certain properties within the company’s real estate portfolio to further unlock value – reflect an acceleration in the company’s transformation efforts consistent with Chairman Eddie Lampert’s recent public comments:
[In late September 2016], we announced a partnership between Shop Your Way, Sears Auto Centers and Uber. This is another example of how we are transforming Sears Holdings to focus on serving our Shop Your Way members … Expect additional partnerships over time emphasizing our Shop Your Way business … Kmart continues to operate over 700 stores … a significant number of these stores are profitable … we are intent on improving the performance of our unprofitable stores and, if we cannot, we will close them … We are acting more aggressively and continuing to evaluate stores as leases expire and as other opportunities present themselves that improve the economics of Sears Holdings. Our significant asset base gives us the wherewithal to fund our business, but we don’t intend to use our asset value to support losses.4
From Bruce Berkowitz (Trades, Portfolio)’s Fairholme Fund (Trades, Portfolio) annual shareholder letter 2016.