Sears' sales tank, profits evaporate - do more layoffs loom?

Wondering how Sears is holding up during the recession? Consider this: it logged $1 billion less in sales in this year's second quarter compared to last year's.

Sears Holdings (SHLD) included several one-time earnings charges in the quarter it reported today. Once those were backed out, the retailer lost 17 cents a share. Analysts polled by Factset expected a profit of 42 cents. Wall Street punished the company by pushing its stock down more than 13 percent to under $64 in pre-market trading.

The biggest single culprit in the fiasco were US same-store sales, which dropped 8.6 percent. Total revenue fell $1.2 billion to $10.6 billion for the 13 weeks ended August 1, 2009, compared $11.8 billion for the 13 weeks ended August 2, 2008.

The numbers were replete with one-time events, including $108 million for severance and pension costs related to lay-offs. The quarter was $62 million better than operating results because of a credit for a legal matter from a period before Sears and K-Mart merged.

Sears still has a high debt load of $3.2 billion. It can't carry that load forever. Business is not likely to pick up this holiday season, if back-to-school sales are any indication.

That means Sears will have to look at its store portfolio and decide if, after all its cuts, the company still employs too many people.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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