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Tuesday, October 15 Business

Judge signals Sears bankruptcy near conclusion with ruling on debt

Under the outline of a deal for Sears Holdings to emerge from bankruptcy that won initial judicial approval Monday, creditors owed debt unsecured by the retailer’s assets would receive less than 3 cents of every dollar for which Sears had been on the hook.

Sears is to remain under the control of Edward Lampert, whose ESL Investments became a major Sears investor during its years in Greenwich before the billionaire moved the fund to Florida where he established residency. The retail empire built by Sears Roebuck has been whittled down to less than 400 Sears and Kmart locations as of August, with USA Today having reported that up to 100 additional closures are possible.

Sears has two remaining department stores in Connecticut, at the Danbury Fair mall and the Shoppes at Buckland Hills in Manchester, with the company having closed locations in Milford and Waterbury.

The Wall Street Journal reported the estimate of what creditors can expect under the bankruptcy outcome, with Lampert having taken the company into bankruptcy protection on Oct. 15, 2018, and filing a formal reorganization plan this past April.

Under the terms of a proposed order, Sears would set aside $25 million as a reserve against any ongoing litigation by creditors, as well as $20 million more in additional cash reserves to cover operating expenses and payments to the U.S. trustee overseeing the case in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, as well as for fees charged by firms that provided legal and other professional services both to Sears Holdings and its creditors.

Judge Robert Drain indicated he was approving the plan despite Sears Holdings appearing to be at least $36 million short in covering obligations that are a condition to it emerging from bankruptcy.

The plan won the support of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. which balked at Lampert’s plan initially after taking over last January the pension plans for some 90,000 Sears participants that it estimated at the time were underfunded by $1.4 billion.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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