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Sears Not Up To Snuff


Retailer leaves much to be desired.


Hello from New York, where the art of deciding what is and what is not "priced into a stock" is an endless fascination. Consider Sears Holdings (SHLD), down today after reporting a surprising loss for the first quarter. I've said it before and I'll almost certainly say it again: Eddie Lampert is a sharp and wealthy man but when everything you can see, touch and feel at a retailer is a train-wreck, the stock is a sell.

Sears has been pitched to me three different ways: as a "hedge fund," a "real estate play" and a "turnaround story". Shooting them down in order: 1) Running all those stores is an expensive way to capitalize a hedge fund, 2) bad retail locations are hardly immune to the real estate crisis and 3) judging by sales and profits from operations, if Sears is turning at all, it's simply spinning in circles. The only things remarkable to me about the Sears news today are that the miss was a "disappointment" to anyone and that Eddie Lampert would authorize a $500 million buyback of Sears stock. He's obviously smart enough to know better.

Here's what else I'm watching as I ponder selling my car to people surprised by Sears' miss:

  • Southwest Airlines (LUV) CEO Gary Kelly was on Fast Money last night; which billed him as "the best oil trader on earth." Our hyperbole was based on the fact that LUV has pre-purchased 70% of this years' jet fuel at the equivalent of $51 a barrel. Mr. Kelly struck me as an insanely sharp guy and the LUV hedging program speaks for itself. Alas, his reward is gaining market share for a terrible core business.

  • Crude oil is reacting poorly to what should be bullish news. The resulting "whoosh" is what it sounds like when traders all run for the exits at once. Is today's price action the long-awaited prick to the crude bubble? Probably not, but we can pull back to as low as $110 before I'll consider crude all that damaged technically (which is the only way I trade commodities). Watch crude closely into the close.

  • Jerry Yang and Yahoo (YHOO) suddenly seem more than willing to talk to Microsoft (MSFT) about some sort of combination. Maybe Mr. Yang isn't given to regret past decisions but I'm thinking he has to spend occasional moments wondering why it was he decided to make his first "real job" coming back to run Yahoo. His current role is a pretty tough place to cut your teeth as a manager.

  • With today's move, Big Lots (BIG) has completed the bulk of the work in making a comeback from the destruction that took place in the shares last fall. The company bottomed near $10 early in '08 after a number of estimate cuts and a tweak to the business model: Outstanding job of adjusting on the fly by CEO Steve Fishman and crew.

  • The New York Times (NYT) is questioning the sustainability of the cable television business model. Read all about it at the Times' free online blog!

  • MasterCard (MA) up almost 10% today. Again. The consumer may not be dead but cash is.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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