US retailer Kmart has said that it plans to close 326 stores and a distribution centre, with the loss of around 37,000 jobs, in a bid to get out of its bankruptcy-court filing by the end of April.

The company said it expects the closures, if approved, to generate around $500m in 2003. The closures would be the second round of closures undertaken by Kmart since it filed for bankruptcy last January after failing to turn a big enough profit to pay its suppliers. Last March the company closed 283 stores, leading to the loss of around 22,000 jobs. Now, Kmart expects to close 266 Kmart and Big K stores and 60 Kmart SuperCenters, leaving the company with around 1,500 stores, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Kmart also reported December like-for-like sales were down 5.7% compared to the same period of 2001, despite 24-hour opening and big discounts.

Three federal investigations into the company’s demise are now underway, as is an internal review of managers, some of whom are reported to have pocketed millions of dollars in loans just days before the company went bankrupt.

Kmart’s recovery is also being hampered by fierce competition from discount rivals like Wal-Mart, and some analysts think it may not survive at all, reported BBC Online.