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J.C. Penney Shares Hit All-Time Low as Turnaround Fails

August 11, 2017, 12:28 PM UTC

J.C. Penney’s (JCP) turnaround has officially turned around.

The department store’s shares fell 22% on Friday morning to less than $4—heading for a new all-time low when trading opens—after it reported a fourth straight quarter of comparable sales declines and a wider net loss hurt by how cheaply it has sold items in liquidation from the dozens of stores it has closed.

The company tried to put a brave face on it with CEO Marvin Ellison touting “significant acceleration” in its kids’ apparel and a purportedly strong start to back-to-school, but investors were having none of it, concerned by Penney’s ability to get any leverage from its manifold efforts to revive the once iconic chain’s fortunes.

Penney, which has closed 127 of its 1,000-plus stores in the last year, saw its net loss net loss widen to $62 million, or 20 cents per share, in the second quarter ended July 29, from $56 million, or 18 cents per share, a year earlier. So far this year, Penney has had a net loss of $242 million, almost twice what it was at the end of the second quarter last year.

The results come on the heels of difficult reports for rivals like Macy’s (M), which on Thursday announced a 10th straight quarter of sales declines, Dillard’s (DDS) and to a lesser extent Kohl’s. (KSS) Department stores have been grappling with consumer indifference, weak traffic at many malls and merchandise overlap.

But given Penney’s high level of indebtedness—long term debt is $3.8 billion, enormous for an unprofitable company generating less than $12 billion in annual sales—these results are particular worrisome to investors concerned Penney is unable to fix its business, and they have punished the stock accordingly. A decade ago, Penney was worth $19 billion on the stock market; today it is barely worth $1.5 billion.

Penney has not been sitting idly by: it has reconfigured its home good area to focus on appliances and home services to become less reliant on apparel, it has staked a claim on the plus-size apparel market with new brands and it recently launched a new loyalty program.

Yet its business is failing to capitalize on those initiatives or the free fall of mall rival Sears (SHLD). Ellison, who became CEO two years ago, called out home goods, jewelry, shoes, handbags, Sephora beauty shops and its salon business as better performers, but made no mention of appliances, a big bet by the former Home Depot (HD) executive, in his statement. He will discuss Penney’s results later Friday morning on a conference call.

Looking ahead, Penney said it still expects comparable sales, a key metric that strips out the impact of newly closed stores, would range from a 1% drop to a 1% increase for the full year but did warn investors cost of goods sold would be higher, a pressure point on its earnings.

Net sales in the second quarter climbed 1.5 percent, to $2.96 billion, slightly above forecasts in a rare bright spot in the report.