Why Did Sears Holdings Corporation Shares Drop 12% in December?

Sometimes the stock market takes the lack of good news as bad news. That's probably at least partly the case when it came to Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD) in December.

What happened

During the crucial holiday season, Sears slashed prices hoping to lure in customers. That's a very short-term strategy that, even if it had worked, would not have set the company up for a return to growth. Instead, it would show that lowering prices beyond a sustainable point can bring in customers.

Had the company's extreme discounting worked, it probably would have made a statement about its sales -- at least to cheer investors and give vendors some insight into whether to expect to get paid. Since no statement was made, it's likely -- or at least it appears as if -- the news is not good.

So what

On the last day of November, Sears reported yet another loss in Q3. The company did try to sell its cutting its loss from $748 million in Q3 2016 to $558 million in Q3 2017 as a sign that its turnaround has taken hold. In reality, the loss shrank in proportion to the size the company has shrunk.

Investors may have originally bought CEO Eddie Lampert's optimistic remarks in the earnings release, but that optimism faded away quickly. After a brief bump on Nov. 30, shares sank through December, partly because of earnings and partly because of pessimism over holiday sales.

After closing November at $4.08, shares finished December at $3.58, a 12.25% drop, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Now what

Unless Sears has a holiday miracle to report, the company remains in dire straits. Lampert has been funding losses through loans from companies he controls and selling off assets. That's not going to work much longer, as the chain now has a negative overall value.

For Sears, the end may be near. That has been true for a while now, but it's becoming very clear that the chain's survival plans aren't working. Unless that changes soon -- and there's almost no reason to believe it will -- the company may drag out its death, but it doesn't appear able to prevent it.

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Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.