CHICAGO-Like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill, a fleeting comment recently made by a Sears, Roebuck and Co. executive gathered momentum and proportion. And the only thing resulting news stories lacked was any basis in reality.
During a meeting the Chicago-based mass merchandiser held recently with a group of analysts, Arthur Martinez, chairman and CEO of Sears' merchandising group, happened to mention that once it spins off its Allstate Insurance Group into a separate company, Sears will have some cash available for expansion, including possible acquisitions.
According to a Sears spokesman, some analysts may have speculated that the company's automotive group might be a likely candidate for expansion.
After news stories began appearing on some business wire services, and at least one financial columnist also wrote that Sears is looking at acquiring a chain of automotive centers, the spokesman said Mr. Martinez reviewed his comments, but didn't remember saying any such thing.
Mr. Martinez is expected to become Sears' president, chairman and CEO when Edward Brennan, who currently holds those titles, retires at the end of June.
Other reports had Sears in talks with Pep Boys-Manny, Moe and Jack, but the spokesman said there were never any negotiations between the two retailers.
``We don't have any acquisition plans to announce,'' the spokesman said, calling the stories ``pure speculation'' based on a comment by Mr. Martinez on how the company intended to grow its overall business as opportunities arise. That's something the spokesman said any healthy business always contemplates.
The Allstate spinoff is expected to occur within 30 to 60 days, and follows Sears' spinoff of its Coldwell Banker business as the company attempts to return to its ``retailing roots,'' the spokesman explained.
Then he added some speculation of his own, that perhaps some people may have misunderstood Sears recent alliance with Jiffy Lube-a joint venture, not an acquisition-that will return oil changes and related services to more than half of Sears' 779 auto centers.