Sears tries again to secure bank loan
Prospective lenders to Sears Holdings Corp. have so far rejected Chairman Eddie Lampert’s appeals to help fund a loan and stave off liquidation. Now the company is trying new tactics to attract financing.
A Sears lawyer told a judge Thursday that the department-store chain was reviewing alternative structures for a proposed $300 million bankruptcy loan intended to keep stores open during the holidays.
Lampert’s ESL Investments Inc. has been in talks to provide at least some of the money along with hedge fund Cyrus Capital Partners. But after approaching several other potential lenders asking them to help fund the loan, ESL has found no takers, according to people with knowledge of the private negotiations.
The cold shoulders could test Lampert’s resolve to once again prop up the department-store chain, which already owes him and his investment entities more than $2.6 billion. The hedge fund manager, who is also Sears’s biggest shareholder, has said he wants to buy some of the company’s stores out of bankruptcy and keep the retailer going as a slimmer, less-indebted business.
A spokesman for ESL declined to comment, as did a representative for Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Sears.
Some potential lenders who were approached about participating in the so-called junior debtor-in-possession loan said they hesitated over several sticking points. Among them: which assets would back the loan, whether that collateral was appropriately valued and which creditors would be paid ahead of them, the people said. One particular concern was that the new loan would give ESL and Cyrus even more control over the bankruptcy process because they already hold so much of the retailer’s’ debt.
Sears delayed a hearing that had been scheduled for Nov. 1 to review the loan. Ray Schrock, a lawyer representing Sears in bankruptcy, said Thursday that the company was able to delay that hearing because its financial situation was less dire than it thought when it filed for Chapter 11 protection on Oct. 15.
Schrock said the company had “continued interest” from potential lenders and that it had been in discussions with financial institutions about a different loan structure than what had initially been proposed. He didn’t provide other details.
“The company isn’t facing a significant liquidity need right now,” Schrock said during the hearing Thursday.
While Lampert will now have more time to market the debt, if no other lenders emerge, he and Cyrus Capital will need to decide whether they would fund the entire loan themselves.
Amid struggles with swelling debt and dwindling shoppers, Sears filed for Chapter 11 with a plan to shut 142 unprofitable stores and possibly more. A group of its most-senior lenders, including Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., provided $300 million of new financing to help pay the bills while it reorganized.
But with vendors growing anxious and Sears previously projecting that it would need to spend $220 million in the first month of its bankruptcy, the new capital was expected to evaporate quickly.
Lampert proposed providing the additional financing with Cyrus at a rate of about 12 percent. The loan would rank lower than bankruptcy financing that was provided by Sears’ senior lenders. The company entered Chapter 11 without a firm deal in place, however, and Sears said that ESL would test the market to determine whether other lenders would be willing to provide the debt on more favorable terms.