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In Canada, the CBC has a story about how people who retired from the now defunct Sears Canada are facing reductions in their pensions of as much as 19 percent, with critics saying that the company underfunded its pension fund even while making billions of dollars in dividend payments to its shareholders. Among the shareholders that benefitted from the payouts - ESL Investments, the hedge fund owned and controlled by Eddie Lampert, who also happens to be the CEO of Sears.

The Sears Canada Retiree Group (SCRG), a volunteer organization that represents retirees, says that after Lampert took control of Sears Canada in 2005, “the retailer had returned $3.5 billion to shareholders, largely through special dividends,” the CBC reports.

However, Lampert argues that this is inaccurate and that “that Sears Canada met its demise not because of big dividend payments, but due to bad moves made by management.” Lampert also says that “a company needs to provide adequate returns to shareholders to stay viable.”

The CBC also writes that Lampert says that Sears Canada’s recent demise “was primarily the result of a costly but unsuccessful restructuring strategy launched in 2016.”

“"I too very much regret the failure of Sears Canada," Lampert says. "Like all other stakeholders, ESL has suffered significant losses from the bankruptcy of this storied company.”
KC's View:
It is pretty good bet that ESL is going to suffer less than the pension holders. That’s just the way these things work out; the name of the hedge fund may be ESL, but the way they do business probably could be better described as CYA.

I know that Lampert did not have the kind of hands-on role at Sears Canada that he’s had at Sears in the US, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have his fingers in the pie. I think it is kind of a joke for him to blame “bad moves by management,” when he had to have some role in choosing and overseeing management.

The question is the degree to which Sears Canada’s present will be reflected in Sears US’s future. I’m guessing that there will be a lot of similarities - stores will continue to close, people will continue to lose their jobs, and hedge fund billionaires will manage to remain whole even as they mismanage - through lack of vision and incompetent implementation - a once iconic company into its grave.