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Here’s Why J.C. Penney Shares Are Tanking

J.C. Penney (JCP) shares took a dive on Friday after a news report suggested April sales were below its expectations.

In an attempt to cut expenses, the department store chain has taken steps like cut some store jobs, freeze overtime and limit credit card use by executives, the New York Post reported, citing an internal Penney memo it obtained. Penney also cut store hours for both full-time and part-time store employees. The company last fall cut hundreds of jobs at its headquarters and sold off a big part of its campus to raise much needed cash.

“We have an expense challenge for the month of April and are asking all stores to do their fair share by closely monitoring all expenses,” the Post quoted the memo as saying.

A Penney spokeswoman did not immediately return a request from Fortune for comment.

Investors will know for sure whether Penney stumbled next Friday when the retailer reports first quarter earnings. But the 7% stock drop, which followed a decline in previous days, illustrates how skittish Wall Street remains about Penney’s prospects despite a turnaround that has gathered steam, as chronicled in a recent cover story in Fortune. As recently as last Saturday, financial newspaper Barron’s was saying Penney shares could double within a few years.

Penney reported comparable sales rose 4.1% during the holiday quarter, a much better performance than those of rivals Kohl’s (KSS), Macy’s (M) and Sears. And J.C. Penney has forecast comparable sales, which includes online sales and sales at stores open at least a year, will rise 3% to 4% this year.

Yet the company remains mired in long term debt: $4.3 billion, a huge load for a company with $13 billion in annual sales (a far cry from just under $20 billion a decade ago). Penney is also a laggard in e-commerce, though it is making big strides on that front.

Indeed, many investors are still betting heavily against Penney: according to Bloomberg data, 27% of shares have been sold by short sellers expecting sales to fall, a much higher than average percentage. That makes shares much more sensitive to any bad news. What’s more, there has been plenty of negative news about other retailers this week to make Penney investors nervous.

Aéropostale filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and L Brands (LB) reporting an unexpected drop in sales at Victoria’s Secret in April have raised the specter of continued challenges to shopper traffic at malls. Macy’s has forecast declining sales this year. Even Costco Wholesale, (COST) a perennial winner, managed to disappointed Wall Street with tepid April sales.

All this has added up to bearish sentiment about retail generally.


Indeed Penney’s shares have fallen 30% since a 52-week high hit two months ago. That proves that J.C. Penney’s turnaround remains a show-me story for investors.