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Lampert Rallies Team as Sears Net Plummets

Retailing is a corporate contact sport, but hedge fund titan Edward Lampert, quarterback — chairman, that is — of Sears Holdings Corp., has taken the analogy a step further, comparing the company with the upset Super Bowl winners, the New...

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Fourth-quarter profits at Sears Holdings fell 475 percent

Fourth-quarter profits at Sears Holdings fell 47.5 percent.

Photo By WWD Staff

Retailing is a corporate contact sport, but hedge fund titan Edward Lampert, quarterback — chairman, that is — of Sears Holdings Corp., has taken the analogy a step further, comparing the company with the upset Super Bowl winners, the New York Giants.

Identifying with regular-season criticism of quarterback Eli Manning, Lampert said Thursday in a letter to shareholders: "We know what it's like to be underestimated and questioned, but we intend to keep working on our game to achieve our full potential."

Lampert even suggested that some of the company's popular brands, which range from Lands' End to Craftsman tools, might be sold at other retailers.

It's unclear how far along in the season the corporate parent to both Sears and Kmart is, but it is one of the tough times: Fourth-quarter profits fell 47.5 percent as the company held an oversupply of inventory in apparel and cut prices in the face of slowing sales.

For the three months ended Feb. 2, net income dropped to $426 million, or $3.17 a diluted share, from $811 million, or $5.27, in the same period last year, on sales that slid 6.8 percent to $15.1 billion from $16.2 billion. Same-store sales decreased 4.5 percent.

The gross margin rate dropped to 27.7 percent from 29.7 percent. For the year, net income slipped 44.6 percent to $826 million on a sales decline of 4.3 percent to $50.7 billion.

To approach anything like the Giants' come-from-behind victory over the undefeated New England Patriots, Sears will have to figure out how to boost its profits or grab market share from rivals such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. Each chain struggled with the same macroeconomic pressures — falling consumer confidence, a housing slowdown and higher prices — but turned in better results.

Target and Penney's reported fourth-quarter profit declines of 8.2 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively, as discount heavyweight Wal-Mart managed to boost its bottom line 4.1 percent.

"Our profit margins continue to lag our competitors," Lampert said in the letter. "We intend to manage the company's expenses and our inventory position more tightly in 2008 in order to improve our productivity on both fronts. We will continue to work to improve our game."
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