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At Sears: A New Executive but the Same Malaise

Sears Holdings (SHLD) announced a new president of retail services last week whose background doesn't exactly inspire hope for a turnaround for the company's floundering Sears and Kmart chains. Jim Haworth is a former longtime Walmart (WMT) executive who most recently chaired a holding company that operates shopping centers. In China.

Haworth steps into the deepening mire of Sears' long, thus far fruitless effort at revitalization. Some retail-watchers are forecasting that Sears may well close 200-300 of its full-line stores in the wake of the dismal holiday season. Haworth will be in charge of driving sales at the stores that remain, currently around 3,000 full line and about another 1,000 specialty stores.

There basically hasn't been much good news for Sears since financier Edward Lampert bought Kmart and merged it with Sears five years ago. Overall sales and comparable sales have both shrunk steadily in the years since -â€" in 2008, the last year for which we have annual figures, same-store sales were down 8 percent. The company lost money in the last two reported quarters, with new of the holiday sales quarter still to come.

Most importantly, Sears has been limping along for two years with interim CEO Bruce Johnson. There is, in essence, no one at the helm with a vision of where these brands should go next. The company should either make a CEO hire or take the "interim" off Johnson's title at this point and empower him to move the company in bold new directions.

From his resume, Haworth seems to be the man to perhaps get Sears better lease rates, or maybe he can wring some additional efficiencies from the company's supply chain. That would possibly improve margins, but leaves the core problem untouched -â€" Sears and Kmart need a radical reinvention to make them relevant to 21st century shoppers. Adding Haworth doesn't seem to bring that kind of needed change any closer to happening.

While some investors may still like Sears, adding executives such as Haworth does nothing to silence retail-watchers who've long held that to Lampert, Sears is merely a real-estate play. In fact, given his shopping-mall background, it may only give them more fuel.