Just days after taking over the CEO role at Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD), Eddie Lampert has furthered his gradual dominance of the company by increasing his shareholding. GuruFocus Real Time Picks reports that Lampert increased his Sears stake by 0.79% at the average price of $41.30 per share on Jan. 9, 2013.
The purchased raised his ownership in the company to 56.5% of shares outstanding, and elevated his share count to 42,606,190. News of the event sent shares up 7.4% in midday trading.
SHLD data by GuruFocus.com Sears’ market value has gained almost 31% over the past year, although the company reported tepid fourth quarter-to-date performance on Jan. 7. Sales at Sears Domestic stores had edged up 0.5% quarter to date and declined 1.6% year to date. Kmart sales fared worse, declining 3.8% and 3.7% in the same time, for overall declines of 1.8% and 2.6%.
Declines were driven by poor performance in the consumer electronics category of both Sears and Kmart. Excluding that category, overall sales decreased 0.2%.
The increase in Sears Domestic sales was driven by appliance and apparel sales, as the company prepares to mark its sixth consecutive quarter of comparable store apparel sales increases.
The company expects fourth quarter EBITDA between $365 million and $465 million, compared to $351 million last year, and full-year EBITDA between $560 million and $660 million, compared to $277 million last year.
"We expect to generate domestic EBITDA improvement for the fourth consecutive quarter, and have reduced net debt by $400 million as of December 29, 2012," said former-CEO Lou D'Ambrosio.
The same day it issued the update, Sears announced that Eddie Lampert would take the helm as CEO, replacing Louis D’Ambrosio, a former IBM (IBM) executive, who joined the company several years ago, and was leaving for family health reasons. Lampert said in the release:
"In light of Lou's decision to step down, the Board feels it is important that there is continuity of leadership during this important period of transformation and improvement at Sears Holdings. I have agreed to assume these additional responsibilities in order to continue the company's recovery and sustain the momentum we are experiencing, as well as further the development of the management team under the distributed leadership model, which provides our business unit leaders with greater control, authority and autonomy. Working closely with the Board, management and our dedicated associates, we will remain focused on executing our goals, improving operations and building sustainable long-term value for shareholders. All of this starts with delivering great experiences to our Members."
Many suspect that Lampert, who formed the company almost eight years ago, has already been effectively running it as chairman. Many also suspected that Lampert bought the company originally for the real estate value. Lampert countered the claim in a conversation with the Chicago Tribune last week, confirming that he planned to keep the company in business:
"I've never denied there was substantial real estate value in the company," Lampert said. "Suffice it to say that … the most value can be created if we actually transform it."Aside from the Sears chairman role, Lampert has no official retail experience, though he has been a heavy investor in AutoNation (NYSE:AN) and AutoZone (NYSE:AZO) over the years and pushed for changes in the companies.
Lesser investments in retail in his current portfolio include Big Lots (NYSE:BIG), Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) and Gap (NYSE:GPS).
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