The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Dog bites man, Sears edition

The Chicago Tribune points out that Sears' $5 bn in losses could actually help the guy who killed it, Eddie Lampert:

As of the retailer's bankruptcy on Oct. 15, Sears estimated it had net operating losses it could use to offset $5 billion of future taxable income, and separate tax credits of around $900 million. These are the most valuable assets Sears has, and under U.S. tax law, they could disappear in bankruptcy if another company or investor takes the company over.

When a company has accumulated net operating losses, it can use them to offset future taxable income, which in turn cuts into its tax bills. The rule is meant to give struggling companies more breathing room. That means big benefits on the balance sheet. For example, Sears saved $1.7 billion in deferred taxes in 2017, according to its most recent quarterly filing.

While a sale in bankruptcy would often mean a change in control, meaning that such tax benefits are lost, Lampert's stock and debt stakes would help him avoid that. Lampert and his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc., together own about 49 percent of Sears shares, and are among Sears's biggest creditors, having extended it $2.66 billion in debt through various loans.

Creditors who have held debt for 18 months before the filing and whose debt rose in the ordinary course of Sears's business are "qualified creditors" who can thus avoid losing the tax assets even if there's a shift in control towards them.

He profits from destroying the company. Ain't America grand?

What to do while waiting for tonight's deployment

We have a deployment at work tonight at 5pm (because in financial firms, you always deploy at 5pm on Friday). Fortunately, we've already done a full test, so we're looking forward to a pretty boring deployment tonight.

Fortunately, we have the Internet, which has provided me with all of these things to read:

Back to planning for next week's post-deployment fixes.

The sad story of Cityfront Center

Today's Chicago Tribune lays out a cautionary tale about Cityfront Center, a downtown Chicago development that hasn't lived up to its developer's promises:

The goal was a “progression of spaces which are intended to unify the entire mixed-use project,” according to a 1987 document signed by then-planning commissioner Elizabeth Hollander and Chicago Dock’s president, Charles R. Gardner.

Thirty-one years later, no one disputes that Cityfront Center is a real estate success, even though it includes Chicago’s most infamous hole in the ground — the foundation for the unbuilt Chicago Spire, the twisting, 2,000-foot condominium tower that went bust in 2008.

The area, which turned out to be a better site for apartments than offices, is home to thousands of residents and generates tens of millions of dollars in annual property tax revenue.

Promenades are about moving; plazas are where you stop and take in the city. They are its living rooms. But Cityfront Center’s plazas don’t issue much of a welcome.

The problems begin at what’s supposed to be the western gateway to the district — Pioneer Court, a large but underachieving expanse of pavement at 401 N. Michigan Ave., next to the new Apple store.

On the plaza’s north side are rows of trellislike pavilions, trees and shrubbery. While those features provide much-needed places to sit, they block the view into the heart of Cityfront Center and partly obstruct the path to it. They even end in a cul-de-sac of fountains that forces pedestrians to retrace their steps.

Getting from one of Cityfront Center’s plazas to the other, it turns out, is no walk in the park.

The article has detailed maps and photos that show, in painful detail, how urban planners really need to brush up on A Pattern Language again.

Links before packing resumes

I'm about to go home to take Parker to the vet (he's getting two stitches out after she removed a fatty cyst from his eyelid), and then to resume panicking packing. I might have time to read these three articles:

Moving tomorrow. I just want this to be over...

Sears files for bankruptcy protection

As predicted, Eddie Lampert has succeeded in driving Sears into the ground:

In announcing the news, Sears said Edward Lampert stepped down as CEO effective immediately and remains chairman.

Sears and Kmart stores and online platforms will remain open, though the company also said it would close 142 unprofitable stores near yearend, with liquidation sales at those locations "expected to begin shortly."

The company said it has commitments for $300 million of debtor-in-possession financing from its senior secured asset-based revolving lenders and is negotiating a $300 million subordinated DIP financing with ESL Investments, where Lampert is chairman and CEO. The hedge fund held about $2.5 billion in Sears debt as of September, the result of multiple attempts to keep the chain afloat.

Negotiations over the fate of the fallen company continued over the past week, as it faced a critical $134 million of debt that is maturing today.

So, after killing the 132-year-old company, Lampert stands to make millions from its demise. And 68,000 people will soon be out of work.

UpdateCrain's has an obituary.

Lyric Opera musicians continue strike

Citing a $10m budget shortfall, Lyric Opera of Chicago has cut their orchestra's year by two weeks and cut six performances. In response, the Chicago Federation of Musicians has gone on strike, forcing the cancellation of La Boheme and possibly other productions:

The orchestra and management have stalled on contract negotiations, and according to bassoon player Lewis Kirk, musicians have been working without a contract since June.

Kirk said management had issued “severe demands.” He pointed to management’s proposal to eliminate five positions in the orchestra as a major point of contention. He said overall quality will be threatened.

[Anthony Freud, general director at the Lyric Opera of Chicago] maintained the proposed cuts come as a result of supply and demand. There were 61 performances during the 2017 to 2018 season.Freud said only 55 were scheduled for the 2018 to 2019 season to ensure the company could  sell enough tickets. According to Freud, fewer performances account for management’s plan to reduce annual working weeks for members of the orchestra from 24 to 22.

Said one of my friends who is familiar with the negotiations:

If Lyric faces financial challenges, it is not because of the Orchestra. Lyric grew its budget in recent years, from $60.4 million in 2012 to $84.5 million in 2017. But the Orchestra saw none of that $24 million increase. To the contrary, the Orchestra’s share of the budget has decreased steadily, from 14.6% in 2012 to 11.9% in 2017. If Lyric wants to make cuts, it is looking in a misguided place. Since 2011, orchestra members’ weekly salary has increased an average of less than 1% per year; adjusted for inflation, wages have actually decreased by 5.1% since 2011. The musicians’ last bargaining proposal to management proposed tying wage increases directly to the rate of inflation. They are not even trying to make up for lost ground. It is infuriating and heartbreaking.

I haven't seen La Boheme yet, and I may not this year. Heartbreaking indeed.

Other things I'm reading

If the Kanye West–Donald Trump crazyfest didn't do it for you, there are plenty of other things to take a look at this lunchtime:

That's all for now. Enough crazy for one Friday.

The end is nigh for Sears

Oh, Sears. You've come to represent much that is wrong with American corporate culture, especially a CEO who embodies the Dunning-Krueger Effect with every syllable he utters.

Crain's Joe Cahill argues that Eddie Lampert, while Sears' proximate cause of death, didn't act alone in its murder:

There's no denying the hedge fund mogul who thought he knew more about retailing than the retailers made critical errors that turned Sears' struggles into an inexorable decline. But Sears started down the wrong path long before Lampert appeared. And its sad fate isn't so much a story of operational missteps as one of missed opportunity. In short, Sears chose to imitate Walmart when it should have tried to pre-empt Amazon.

Like so many established companies threatened by newcomers with innovative business models, Hoffman Estates-based Sears tried to beat the interlopers at their own game, rather than looking ahead to the next big thing. The company that recognized the potential of railroads to support a nationwide retail operation and foresaw that postwar suburban sprawl and shopping malls would redefine retailing for a new generation failed to appreciate the implications of internet technology for the industry it dominated for more than a century.

As for Lampert, he showed no better vision than his predecessors. When he took control of Sears by merging it with Kmart, the combined company still had an opportunity to carve out a strong presence in e-commerce. Amazon had already emerged as the leading internet retailer, but with $8.49 billion in 2005 revenue, it was one-sixth the size of Sears, and barely profitable.

Meanwhile, two other Crain's stories outline the thousands of other victims of this crime: the company's pensioners and all of the malls about to lose their anchor tenants.

Press reports reckon the company has less than 48 hours to live.