Mar 2, 2018
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J.C. Penney profit forecast, same-store sales disappoint, shares dive

Mar 2, 2018

J.C. Penney Co Inc forecast broadly lower-than-expected full-year profit on Friday as the department store operator grapples with weak demand for its clothes and fierce online competition, sending its stock down 10 percent.

Photo: J. C. Penney

The downbeat forecast, on top of fourth-quarter same-store sales below Wall Street’s estimates, surprised investors after the retailer said in January it had seen strong demand for home, beauty products and jewelry during the holiday shopping season.

The results lagged relatively strong holiday-quarter reports from Macy’s Inc, Kohl’s Corp and Nordstrom Inc earlier this week.

J.C. Penney forecast full-year earnings of between 5 cents and 25 cents per share, largely below analysts’ average estimate of 20 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

That was“most disconcerting,” said Ken Perkins at industry research firm Retail Metrics, given that retailers potentially stand to benefit from greater customer spending this year after recent tax cuts.

“We want to get into a habit of under-promising and over-delivering,” Chief Executive Marvin Ellison said on a call to discuss earnings, telling analysts he expected better margins in 2018. He said J.C. Penney would gain market share this year from struggling rivals closing stores.

“There is over a $9 billion category overlap in the malls that we occupy with retailers that are in distress, and we say that as an opportunity for us to get a greater share of that,” said Ellison.

Many retailers have been forced to shutter stores and slash jobs as they rethink their structures in the face of competition from Amazon.com Inc and other online retailers.


J.C. Penney said on Friday it cut 360 jobs as part of restructuring and cost-cutting efforts that are expected to save between $20 million and $25 million in costs annually.

That follows the company’s announcement last month that it would close its Milwaukee distribution and customer care center and cut about 670 jobs. The retailer and its subsidiaries had about 106,000 full-time and part-time employees at the end of January 2017.

The Plano, Texas-based retailer, which is nearing the end of a years-long turnaround plan, shuttered 141 stores last year, and has said it will close eight more this year.

For the fourth quarter ended Feb. 3, comparable-store sales at J.C. Penney rose 2.6 percent, missing analysts’ average estimate of a 2.94 percent increase.

Ellison said the company was“still playing catch-up” in activewear, and that fixing the women’s apparel business, particularly dresses, contemporary and casual sportswear, would be a strategic priority this year. He said he expected women’s and kids’ apparel to report positive first-quarter same-store sales growth.

“Apparel has been a sore spot for them for some time and they have quite a bit of floor space dedicated to it,” said Perkins, noting the retailer has been losing market share to Macy’s, Kohl’s and T.J. Maxx .

“It’s one of those things they are going to have to get right relatively soon.”

Net profit rose to $254 million in the fourth quarter from $192 million a year earlier, helped by a $75 million boost from tax reforms in the United States passed in December.

Excluding one-time items, J.C. Penney earned 57 cents per share, ahead of the analysts’ estimates of 47 cents.

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