Sears may be filing for bankruptcy – and its stock price is now around 40 cents

Sears is considering filing for bankruptcy protection as soon as this week as it faces a large debt repayment on Monday, reports The Wall Street Journal. Shares of Sears Holdings Corp. plunged as much as 31 percent in pre-market trading.

The company has hired advisory firm M-III Partners LLC to prepare the bankruptcy filing, although the retailer is continuing to consider other options to avoid insolvency, the report said. Sears is facing a debt repayment of $134 million on Monday, although one option would be for its CEO, the billionaire investor Edward Lampert, to make the payment and rescue the company from bankruptcy, the Journal noted. 

Shares of Sears tumbled 18 cents, or 31 percent, to 40 cents in trading before the market opened. The stock had been trading as high as $43 a share as recently as 2015. 

Sears, an icon of American retailing since the 19th century, has struggled to appeal to consumers in recent years, losing customers and financial strength in the process. Analysts have predicted the company would face a "liquidity event" for several years given its deteriorating financial state. Shoppers told a survey firm in 2016 that they preferred shopping at Goodwill over Sears.  

"The problem in Sears case is that it is a poor retailer," said Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail, in a Tuesday research note, where he wrote that he wasn't surprised the retailer was preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing. "Put bluntly, it has failed on every facet of retailing from assortment to service to merchandise to basic shopkeeping standards."

He added, "Under benign conditions, this would be problematic enough but in today's hyper-competitive retail environment it is a recipe for failure on a grand scale."

Restructuring through a bankruptcy filing may not solve Sears' underlying problems, which include lost market share and disillusioned customers, Saunders noted. Even after several rounds of store closures across the country in recent years, the holding company still operates around 500 Sears stores and 360 Kmart stores. 

Sears on Tuesday said reorganization expert Alan Carr had joined its board. Carr is a former attorney at the law firms Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom and Ravin Sarasohn Baumgarten Fisch & Rosen and currently is the CEO of Drivetrain, an advisory firm for distressed businesses.