Sears prepares to file for bankruptcy in coming days: sources

(Reuters) – Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD.O) is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the coming days following years of declining sales, sources said on Wednesday, casting doubt over the survival of what was once the world’s largest retailer. The bankruptcy filing would end a standoff between Chief Executive Officer Eddie Lampert, the retailer’s biggest shareholder and lender, and a special board committee the company has formed to consider a rescue plan proposed by Lampert that would involve asset sales and a debt restructuring. The committee has been resisting the plan amid concerns that creditors and shareholders would sue over it being too favorable for Lampert. His history of financial engineering at Sears for more than a decade through deals tied to his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc could now be subjected to new scrutiny by Sears’ creditors in bankruptcy court, according to the sources.. A $134-million debt payment that Sears has to meet on Monday has added pressure on both Lampert and the special committee to find a resolution. Lampert had told the special committee he would not help the company fund that obligation unless it agreed to his plan, the sources said. “For whatever reason, Sears’ board said enough is enough,” said Chad Brand, president of Peridot Capital Management, which holds Sears bonds. Brand added that he had significantly cut down on his Sears bond holdings earlier this year amid concerns from his clients. At its peak in the 1960s, Sears sold everything from toys and auto parts to mail-order homes, and was a key tenant in almost every big mall across the United States. But it has struggled to reinvent itself in the face of online competition from companies such as Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), as well as from other brick-and-mortar retailers, including Walmart Inc(WMT.N). It is not clear whether Sears would survive a bankruptcy process. When Toys ‘R’ Us, the largest specialty toy retailer, filed for bankruptcy protection last September, it sought to emerge from it after restructuring its debt and shutting stores. Instead, it was forced to liquidate last March, after creditors balked at providing a new lifeline to the company. If Sears were to file for bankruptcy, its financial performance during the upcoming holiday season could prove crucial in determining its future, according to the sources. Toys ‘R’ Us’ creditors lost faith in the retailer after revenue during last year’s holiday season failed to meet their expectations.