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Sears saved from banktruptcy (again) — for now (again)

A bankruptcy judge is giving the Sears CEO Eddie Lampert — and the 126-year-old retail icon — a little more time.
Image: The inside of a Sears department store is seen one day after it closed in Nanuet
The inside of a Sears department store is seen one day after it closed as part of multiple store closures by Sears Holdings Corp in the United States in Nanuet, New York on Jan. 7, 2019.Mike Segar / Reuters
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A bankruptcy judge is giving Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert another chance to buy the department store chain out of bankruptcy and save roughly 50,000 jobs.

Sears on Tuesday had planned to tell the bankruptcy court it had rejected Lampert’s $4.4 billion offer to buy the retailer, after it fell short of covering its bankruptcy expenses. Lampert, though, protested the decision, highlighting the millions in fees that Sears’ bankruptcy advisers have tallied, a person familiar with the situation told CNBC.

Ultimately, a bankruptcy judge is giving Lampert and a 126-year-old retail icon more time.

Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, will now be required to pay a $120 million deposit by 4:00 p.m. Wednesday. Sears will then allow Lampert to participate in a previously scheduled auction on Monday, when it will compare ESL’s offer to others by liquidators. But it’s still unclear where Lampert will get all the funds to back his offer. A person familiar with the situation told CNBC the chairman has been working to secure financing.

After an auction winner has been determined, a deal will require approval from the bankruptcy court on Jan. 31.

Since Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 15, Lampert has been fighting to keep a few hundred Sears and Kmart stores open. That’s all that’s left, as the company has been shrinking its asset base over the past few years, faced with slumping sales and a cloud of debt. Its stores haven’t received the investments they needed to compete with the likes of Walmart, Target and now Amazon.

In bankruptcy proceedings, Sears’ unsecured creditors have argued there may be claims against Sears for deals done under Lampert’s tenure as CEO and its largest shareholder, which include Sears’ spinoff of Lands’ End in 2014 and transactions with Seritage Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust Lampert created through some Sears’ properties a year later.

These creditors have been a thorn in Lampert’s side, as he’s tried to put up $1.8 billion in debt owed to him to help fund his proposed acquisition of Sears. Sears’ unsecured creditors have opposed his attempt at a so-called credit bid.