The turnaround at one of the nation's largest retailers is good news for Eddie Lampert and hedge funds in general.FORTUNE - It was far from fast. But hedge fund manager Edward Lampert may end up pulling off a turnaround at Sears Holdings (SHLD) in the end. The troubled retailer, which owns the Sears and K-Mart chains as well as apparel brand Land's End, now looks likely to keep its doors open, at least for the next year and quite possibly much longer.
On Thursday, the company, of which Lampert is the chairman and largest shareholder, said it made $189 million in the three months that ended April 28th. Its stock jumped 8% on the news, and at mid-day was trading for around $55. What's more, the company's finances appear to be strengthening. The company's capital position may grow $1.7 billion in the next year. All told, Sears' shares are now up about 60% since the beginning of the year. Not bad for a company that seemed to be on everyone's list for the next major bankruptcy.
What happened? To be fair, Sears is still far from healed. All of the company's recent profits and then some - $233 million worth - came from selling off stores and other real estate holdings. But its continuing operations showed some improvement as well, losing just $32 million, less than a quarter of the $142 million it lost in the same time a year ago. Sales shrunk, but only slightly, and less than analysts had expected.
The company appears to be benefiting from focus, and a better economy. Earlier this year, the company said it was selling off its Hometown and outlet stores. It also decided to close a line of smaller hardware stores the company was opening to take advantage of its Kenmore, DieHard and Craftsman brands. That didn't seem like a bad strategy. But sometimes focusing on your core business is more important than growth. Rather than trying to plan new businesses, the company is now sprucing up its main stores and has developed a program Shop Your Way Rewards that will give the company more information about its shoppers and what they want. These are the types of things the company should have done a while ago, but get lost when executives are thinking about expansions.