By Mike Spector
(Reuters) - Sears Holdings Corp (SHLDQ.PK) is nearing a deal with new lenders to increase a bankruptcy financing package to as much as $600 million, from $300 million, without Chairman Eddie Lampert's hedge fund contributing, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The deal, which may come as soon as this week, could provide enough money for the beleaguered U.S. retailer to keep its shelves stocked during the holiday shopping season and retain sufficient support from creditors and vendors to emerge from bankruptcy proceedings.
The stakes are high, given that Sears faces a Dec. 15 deadline to name a so-called stalking-horse bidder that would make an initial offer, which others could later top, for hundreds of stores that would survive under a new owner.
Sears is in the final stages of negotiations with multiple investment firms to receive up to $450 million in bankruptcy financing in exchange for key collateral currently held by banks lending to the retailer, the sources said. Cyrus Capital Partners LP is one of the investment firms in discussion with Sears, one of the sources said.
That collateral includes some store leases, the sources said. In return, the banks are expected to reduce their exposure to Sears by lending $150 million, instead of the $300 million originally promised, to the department store operator, according to the sources.
Lampert is not expected to contribute to the financing after the retailer garnered adequate interest from other lenders, the sources said. Lampert's hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc, had been in discussions in recent days about participating in the financing, the sources added.
However, ESL still remains open to lending additional money to Sears should the company fall short of the funds it needs in its final negotiations with other potential lenders, one of the sources said.
A financing deal is expected to be announced as soon as this week, though the negotiations remain fluid and an agreement is not guaranteed, the sources said.
A Sears spokesman and a Cyrus spokeswoman declined to comment.
Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 15 with a plan to close about 142 of its 700 stores by the end of the year, throwing into doubt the future of the 125-year-old retailer that once dominated U.S. malls but has withered in the age of internet shopping.
Sears, which employs roughly 68,000 people, is negotiating with ESL on a potential initial bid on financially healthier stores that executives believe could keep the retailer alive, according to the sources and court filings.
ESL could end up bidding on up to 500 Sears stores, or about 100 more than the 400 healthier stores Sears initially identified when filing for bankruptcy, one of the sources said.
Sears has had trouble raising additional financing beyond what banks originally promised. That is because ESL and other possible new lenders balked at providing as much as $300 million that would be second in line for repayment and lacked the desired collateral to back the loan, the sources said.
A hearing to finalize Sears' bankruptcy financing is scheduled for Nov. 15, according to a court filing.
(Reporting by Mike Spector in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas and Paul Simao)