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SearsMart's earnings, at whose expense?

By The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star

Copley News Service

2004-11-22


Depressed? Relax. It's only because you didn't buy Kmart stock in May of 2003, when it was selling for about $15 a share. Last Wednesday, following the announcement that retailers Kmart and Sears were merging into one giant SearsMart, Kmart's stock soared beyond $118 a share for a short time before settling back to a more rational $109 by market's closing. Had you bought Kmart stock last year, when the company emerged from bankruptcy protection, and sold it last week, you would have realized what's known on Wall Street as a "tidy profit," or what we here in central Illinois call an "eyeball-popping, burn-the-mortgage and move-to-Palm-Beach profit." Oh, for a crystal ball.

So what do you get when two struggling companies marry? No doubt the architects of this deal are praying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because the reality is that even together they're still nowhere close to Planet Wal-Mart, which has been taking no prisoners for quite some time now. It's probably not sweating this latest battlefield maneuver by the enemy. Nonetheless, it is pretty remarkable what Kmart Chairman Edward Lampert has done to help turn the company around. Of course, after all the bloodletting there were 600 fewer stores and 57,000 job casualties, too. No one should be surprised if the massacre continues under SearsMart.

When the smoke clears, the last left standing often are the oh-so-prescient investors, and that's all that really matters in our 21st century economy, isn't it? No doubt Wall Street can hardly wait for the day when it's dominated by companies that are lean, mean, money-making machines that employ absolutely no one. Buy low, sell high, and be careful out there.

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