© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A empty Sears shopping cart is seen inside a store in Brooklyn, New York
By Jessica DiNapoli and Mike Spector
(Reuters) – Sears Holdings Corp is planning to close up to 150 of its department and discount stores and keep at least another 300 open as part of a plan to restructure under U.S. bankruptcy protection, people familiar with the matter said Friday.
The plans, which remained in flux on Friday afternoon, would leave the fate of Sears' remaining roughly 250 stores uncertain, the sources said. The future of the stores could hinge on Sears' negotiations with landlords over their leases.
The beleaguered 125-year-old retailer, once the largest in the United States, hopes to sell stores and other assets, including its Kenmore appliances brand and home services business, in court-supervised auctions while under bankruptcy protection, the sources said.
Sears Chief Executive Eddie Lampert, also the company's largest shareholder and creditor, is exploring bidding on the assets as a so-called stalking horse, setting a floor with offers that other possible buyers could then attempt to top, the sources said.
Reuters first reported on Thursday that Lampert was exploring bidding for some Sears assets. Such a plan could potentially keep a slimmer Sears alive as a going concern, the sources said.
Sears was making progress in its negotiations with banks on Friday for financing to keep it afloat through the holiday season while in bankruptcy court, with lenders expected to provide several hundred million dollars, the sources said. The bankruptcy loan amount is unlikely to significantly exceed $400 million, though it could end up being less, the sources said.
A key unresolved aspect of Sears' negotiations with lenders involves setting deadlines for Sears to achieve specific business goals while under bankruptcy protections, the sources said.
Sears is planning to seek bankruptcy protection in New York as soon as Sunday night, though a court filing could slip into Monday, the sources added, asking not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.
Sears did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lampert could help finance his bids for the assets by forgiving some of the money Sears owes him, as opposed to putting in more cash, Reuters reported on Thursday.
At its peak in the 1960s, Sears sold everything from toys to 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 (NASDAQ:), as well as other brick-and-mortar retailers, including Walmart (NYSE:) Inc.
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