Sears is preparing for bankruptcy as soon as this weekend

Sears appears to be preparing for a long expected bankruptcy filing

Sears may be preparing to file for bankruptcy

The Journal also reported the billionaire Lampert, who has rescued the company in the past, could make the payment to avert an in-court restructuring.

Shares of real estate investment trusts (REIT) exposed to Sears properties also fell Wednesday.

Sears' stock is down 83% this year, to below $1 a share.

The Wall Street Journal late Tuesday said Sears had hired boutique advisory firm M-III Partners LLC to help prepare a bankruptcy filing before a US$134 million debt payment comes due on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Sears has closed almost 400 stores since past year.

On Tuesday, Sears brought in corporate restructuring pro Alan Carr as a director. Talks are under way to arrange debtor-in-possession financing for a bankruptcy filing that could come in the next few days, the source added.

Sears appears to be preparing for a long expected bankruptcy filing

Despite years of losses, store closings and other financial problems at Sears, "the possibility of a bankruptcy does seem to be higher than over the past couple of years", said Robert Schulz, chief credit analyst for the retail industry for Standard & Poor's.

Lampert's efforts to keep Sears out of bankruptcy have included shedding hundreds of unprofitable stores: Sears and Kmart had some 3,500 locations when they merged under Lampert in 2005; now there are about 900 nationwide. "Like many other brick and mortar retailers, Sears has encountered very substantial obstacles to profitability as a result of the enormous changes to the retail environment caused by the ever-increasing trend to online shopping".

However, Lampert wants to restructure the debt without filing for bankruptcy protection, because he views bankruptcy as risky for retailers, the paper said.

Sears, an icon of American retailing since the 19th century, has struggled to appeal to consumers in recent years, losing customers and financial strength in the process.

He writes that Sears occupies a significant amount of space, but that about three-quarters of its stores are outside the U.S.'s Top 50 markets, so while many landlords rent space to the retailer, that exposure is relatively small. The retailer closed its last Sears store in Chicago in July and has announced plans to close another 46 stores by November, including a Kmart in Steger and a Sears in Bloomington. The same day, the company revealed that a major shareholder had dumped 142,000 shares this week for only 59 cents to 65 cents a share.

Sears and Kmart had 89,000 employees as of February 3 of this year, according to a company filing. Toys "R" Us' creditors lost faith in the retailer after revenue during last year's holiday season failed to meet their expectations.

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