Sears Holdings posts loss for fifth straight quarter

(Reuters) - Retailer Sears Holdings Corp reported its fifth straight quarterly loss and said there was no guarantee when it would return to profitability, underscoring its struggle to stanch a years-long decline in sales.

The company’s shares were down about 1.5 percent on Thursday. The stock has fallen 41 percent this year, compared with a 36 percent rise in the S&P 500 Department Stores Sub Index.

Total revenue fell 14.3 percent to $5.03 billion in the third quarter ended Oct. 29, hit by lower demand at its Kmart and Sears outlets.

Sears has not posted an increase in quarterly sales in the past five years.

The company has slashed costs, sold off assets and borrowed from Chief Executive Edward Lampert’s hedge fund and other investors to establish a profitable business model built around a smaller store base, online services and a loyalty program, with little results to show.

“We cannot guarantee when we will return to profitability, but it is our intention to do so as soon as possible,” Chief Financial Officer Jason Hollar said in a presentation.

Once the largest U.S. retailer, Sears has lost its standing as customers move to online shopping or rivals such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

“This quarter shows no sign of even the mildest of improvements: on the contrary, the trends have worsened with the weakest comparable performance so far this year,” Neil Saunders, chief executive of research firm Conlumino, said in an email.

“It is now too late to turn this around. The rot has well and truly set in and it is just not financially feasible to reverse it.”

Sales at stores open at least a year fell 7.4 percent, due to weak sales in several categories including apparel, grocery and consumer electronics.

Net loss attributable to Sears’ shareholders swelled to $748 million, or $6.99 per share, from $454 million, or $4.26 per share, a year earlier.

Sears said it reduced the size of its pharmacy business, which operates in many of its Kmart stores, in the third quarter, and would seek to provide pharmacy services through its “Shop Your Way” loyalty plan.

The company said it would continue to cut costs by seeking alternatives for its real estate portfolio, the Sears Home Services business and the unit housing Kenmore appliance, Craftsman tools and DieHard vehicle battery brands.

Lampert, unable to find buyers or partners for the home services business and the brands, offered last week to buy a bigger stake in Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc, if it entered into a partnership for the brands.

Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan and Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty