J.C. Penney Fails to Benefit From Retail Spending Surge As Prospects Dim

August 16, 2018, 1:31 PM UTC

This is one of the healthiest consumer environments in memory but you could hardly tell by looking at J.C. Penney’s (JCP) latest batch of quarterly earnings.

The struggling department store, dealing with the sudden defection of its CEO during the second quarter, boasted in its press release’s headline on Thursday that it had “delivered positive sales comps for the quarter.” But sales at stores open at least a year and online sales rose a combined 0.3% during the second quarter, hardly anything to crow about amid a surge in consumer spending. Walmart (WMT) on Thursday reported its quarterly U.S. comparable sales had risen 4.5%, its best performance in a decade.

J.C. Penney shares fell 17% in premarket trading and were set to hit an all-time low.

The sense of hopelessness that has surrounded Penney’s prospects in recent months was only worsened as Penney slashed its outlook for fiscal 2018, now forecasting same-store sales to be roughly flat and for adjusted loss per share to come on at $1 to 80 cents. What would Penney’s results be in a tough consumer environment?

Penney CFO Jeffrey Davis, one of a team of top execs running the company while it looks for a CEO to replace Marvin Ellison, who bolted in June to become chief executive at Lowe’s (LOW), called out a bright spot for the company, saying women’s and children’s apparel had done relatively well.

But Penney appears unable to get out of its own way. The department store had to once again slash the prices on a ton of merchandise it could not sell because in poor inventory management, an issue it had promised a year ago to fix and an area that was supposedly a specialty for Ellison. Davis said in a statement the department store has “changed its approach to inventory management from ‘buying to store capacity’ to ‘buying and chasing’ into demonstrated sales trends.” Meanwhile, customers are clearly not waiting for Penney to get its act together, and shopping at everyone from Zara to Target to even Walmart now.

Penney said its fiscal second quarter net loss was $101 million, or 32 cents per share, more than twice its loss of $48 million, or 15 cents cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding certain items, the company lost 38 cents per share, far worse than the six-cent loss analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting.

Net sales declined 7.5% percent to $2.76 billion, missing expectations of $2.86 billion.

In the last two years, Penney has launched many new brands, closed 140 weak stores, updated its email systems, and yet nothing seems to give the retailer any traction.

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