J.C. Penney Sinks After Holiday Report Lacks Sales Data

J.C. Penney Co. tumbled after raising doubts about its turnaround by releasing a two-paragraph statement on holiday results that didn’t include sales data it had provided the previous three months.

The shares sank 10 percent to $7.37 at the close in New York for the largest drop since Sept. 27. Plano, Texas-based J.C. Penney slid 54 percent last year, bringing its market value below $3 billion and leading to its removal from the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

J.C. Penney began reporting monthly same-store sales in September to show investors that it was rebounding from the steep sales declines and losses under former Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson. Sales by that measure rose 0.9 in October and 10 percent in November. The company didn’t release December results today, only saying that it was pleased with its holiday performance and repeating its fourth-quarter outlook.

“What companies don’t say can be far more important than what they do say,” Rick Snyder, an analyst for Maxim Group LLC in New York, said today in an interview. “This press release is remarkable for being unremarkable.”

He recommends holding the shares.

Daphne Avila, a spokeswoman for J.C. Penney, declined to comment on why the press release lacked monthly sales results.

The retailer did reiterate a forecast that same-store sales, which only tracks locations open at least a year, and gross margin in the quarter through January would improve. The results showed “continued progress” in the turnaround, J.C. Penney said.

Reinforcing Fears

“Lack of any sales number in today’s release reinforces those fears” that November’s 10 percent gain was the peak and sales will now decelerate, Michael Binetti, an analyst at UBS AG in New York, said in a note to clients today.

November was J.C. Penney’s easiest comparison of this quarter to a year earlier because it was measured against a time when sales were lost to Hurricane Sandy, said Binetti, who recommends selling J.C. Penney shares. The retailer also had the benefit of adding more operating hours during the Black Friday weekend this year by opening on Thanksgiving for the first time, he said.

CEO Mike Ullman, who returned after about 17 months in April to replace Johnson, has reversed much of his predecessor’s legacy. He restored promotions, popular private-label brands and an old logo and ended a strategy of remodeling the stores into collections of boutiques.

Balance Sheet

Ullman also raised about $3.89 billion to shore up J.C. Penney’s liquidity after Johnson’s reign led to a sales decline of 25 percent and a net loss of $985 million in 2012. The moves included drawing down a credit revolver, arranging a loan commitment from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and selling shares. The retailer said it had $1.71 billion in liquidity at the end of its third quarter.

“Today’s reaction is about a lack of specificity, but if you look at where the stock has traded over the last few months, there is a frustration over what it will take to get them back to positive earnings,” Liz Dunn, an analyst at Macquarie Group in New York, said in an interview. Even with positive same-store sales, investors still question “how good does it have to be for this to be a retailer that makes money again?”

She rates the shares neutral, the equivalent of a hold.

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