Lampert's hedge fund makes last-minute bid to save Sears

NEW YORK — A hedge fund run by Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert said it submitted a last-minute bid Friday to keep the struggling retailer from being liquidated.

The bid, valued at $4.4 billion, still needs to be approved. A court date is scheduled for the middle of January.

Transform Holdco LLC, an affiliate of Lampert's ESL Investments hedge fund, said it hoped to keep 425 stores open and 50,000 people working. The bid includes $1.3 billion in financing from three institutions, ESL said in a statement.

The iconic retailer, once the nation's largest department store chain, faced a deadline of Friday for bids for its remaining stores to avert closing down completely. Earlier on Friday, Sears said it was closing 80 more stores. That's in addition to the 182 stores already slated for closure, including 142 by the end of 2018 and 40 by February.

When the Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, it had 687 stores and 68,000 workers.

The retailer that began as a mail order catalog in the 1880s has been in a slow death spiral, hobbled by the Great Recession and then overwhelmed by rivals both down the street and across the internet.

Sears Holdings Corp., which also runs Kmart, joins the list of retail brands taken over by hedge funds that collapsed under the weight of debt forced upon them. Not all have made it out of bankruptcy: Toys R Us shuttered all its stores in June, about nine months after filing for bankruptcy protection.

Under Lampert, Sears has bought time by spinning off businesses and putting on the block the brands that had grown synonymous with the company, such as Craftsman. The company's chairman and biggest shareholder, Lampert loaned out his own money and put together deals to keep the company afloat and to turn whatever profit he could for ESL hedge fund.

ESL said that should its bid be accepted, it expects the company to emerge from bankruptcy.

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