Longtime investor Lampert boosts stake in AutoNation

Former Sears Holding Corp. CEO Eddie Lampert, a longtime key stockholder in AutoNation Inc., is again accumulating shares in the retailer after several years of cutting his stake.

AutoNation, the country’s largest new-vehicle retailer, disclosed in a form filed May 10 with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Lampert increased his stake in AutoNation to 17.1 percent from 12.9 percent. Through shares held by his ESL Investments Inc. hedge fund and The Lampert Foundation, Lampert maintains his status as AutoNation’s second-largest shareholder.

Altogether, the former Sears executive owns 15.2 million AutoNation shares. He previously disclosed ownership of 11.49 million shares.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates remains AutoNation’s largest shareholder, even after selling more than a million shares in the dealership group in recent weeks.

Gates disclosed in an SEC form on May 6 that he’d sold 1.07 million AutoNation shares in open-market transactions from April 26 through May 6. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust owned 1,898,717 AutoNation shares on Dec. 31. It now owns 824,769 shares.

Gates’ total ownership, including through the trust and his investment firm Cascade Investments, now stands at 21.6 percent or 19.3 million shares, according to an AutoNation SEC form. As of January, Gates’ stake had been at 23 percent.

Lampert had been AutoNation’s top shareholder for years before Gates took over the top spot in 2016. At one point in 2010, Lampert owned a majority of AutoNation with a 54.6 percent stake.

As of May 15, Lampert, Gates and AutoNation executive officers and directors own a combined 39 percent of the retailer’s outstanding shares.

AutoNation shares rose 1.5 percent to $ 39.63 in midday trading on Thursday. The retailer does not comment on shareholder activities, a spokesman said.

Attempts to reach Lampert for comment were unsuccessful. He has rarely granted interviews with journalists over the last several years.

Reuters reported in April that Sears Holding Corp. sued Lampert, ESL Investments and others, claiming they illegally siphoned billions of dollars of assets from the retailer before it went bankrupt.

According to Reuters, the lawsuit was filed by the restructuring team winding down Sears’ bankruptcy estate and suing on behalf of creditors, many of whom blame Lampert for the retailer’s downfall.

The suit came shortly after ESL won a bankruptcy auction in February to buy Sears after presenting an improved offer of $ 5.2 billion, according to Reuters.
Lampert stepped down as CEO of Sears Holding Corp. when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October. The former CEO created Sears Holding through the 2005 merger of Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Kmart Holdings Corp.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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