Sears Down to the Wire: Department Store Lines Up a Liquidator as Acquisition Talks Falter

It’s coming down to the wire for Sears as the iconic department store’s advisers struggle to reach a deal with chairman Eddie Lampert that would save it from liquidation.

Citing sources familiar with the negotiations, Reuters reports that the 126-year-old company has settled on veteran liquidation firm Abacus Advisory Group LLC to help wring value out of its remaining assets, including inventory, store fixtures and equipment. The New Jersey-based company has assisted Sears in winding down more than 800 unprofitable stores since 2002, per bankruptcy court documents, and was also involved in Kmart’s 2002 bankruptcy proceedings before the retailer was acquired by Sears Holdings.

Despite this history, Sears had opened the door to bids from competitors, according to Reuters, but on Friday chose Abacus Advisory and a second liquidation firm run by Jay Schottenstein, the CEO of American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and chairman of DSW Inc. In the event that Sears doesn’t accept Lampert’s $4.4 billion buyout bid — which he says will salvage 425 stores and 50,000 jobs — the liquidators be charged with selling off hundreds of stores worth of inventory and other assets before the chain disappears, putting 68,000 people out of work.

The parties are currently locking horns over a clause in Lampert’s bid — put forward through an affiliate of his hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc. — that would release him from any potential legal responsibility for his actions in the leadup to the bankruptcy, which made him the retailer’s biggest creditor. His current offer, delivered on Dec. 28, includes $1.8 billion in debt forgiveness in exchange for legal release, though some of the company’s advisers have pushed back on the terms, as well as Lampert’s valuations of Sears’ assets.

A hearing about the status of the bid is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m.

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