JC Penney shares crater 26% on earnings miss, lowered forecast

  • The earning report is the first since CEO Marvin R. Ellison announced his resignation this spring.
  • The department store has struggled to compete within the quickly evolving retail landscape as consumers shift their shopping online and away from the mall.
  • It has focused on beauty and appliances to fuel its turnaround.

J.C. Penney on Thursday reported quarterly earnings and revenue that missed analysts' expectations, as it continues to grapple with an overhang of unsold merchandise.

As fast fashion brands like Zara have trained shoppers to shop new styles more frequently, retailers like J.C. Penney have struggled to build a supply chain to support quick inventory changes and to gather the data needed to anticipate what will be on trend. The company lost more than a fourth of its market value as its shares slid by almost 26 percent shortly after trading opened.

J.C. Penney reduced its outlook for fiscal 2018, saying it now expects an adjusted loss per share of $1 to 80 cents and same-store sales to be flat.

Here's what the company reported compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on a survey of analysts by Thomson Reuters:

  • Losses per share: 38 cents, adjusted, vs. 6 cents, expected
  • Revenue: $2.76 billion vs. $2.86 billion expected

Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Davis said Thursday that the department store has "changed its approach to inventory management from 'buying to store capacity' to 'buying and chasing' into demonstrated sales trends." It is slashing the prices of products that have not sold, this time to clear its shelves for fall and back-to-school inventory.

The company told analysts Thursday morning on a conference call that it expects to reduce its total inventory by at least $250 million.

It also said it is establishing "several new partnerships" to improve its buying process, ensure its products are more on trend and better display its merchandise. JC Penney has been focusing streamlining its products to cater to its core customers — women in the range of 45 to 55 and older — after a period in which it sought younger shoppers.

Still, it's not the first time the company has had this challenge. Last year, J.C. Penney slashed its profit and sales forecasts when it had to discount heavily ahead of the holidays.

Some analysts were unsure its latest efforts to manage its products will sufficiently tip the balance in its favor.

"It is not enough simply to buy less," Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail, wrote in a research note Thursday.

"J.C. Penney needs to have a clear view of who it is buying for and then relentlessly focus on producing a well-targeted range that is differentiated and inspiring. In our view, J.C. Penney is a long way from getting this right. As such, even with modest improvements, the results from fashion are unlikely to improve significantly over the balance of this year."

J.C. Penney reported fiscal fourth-quarter net loss of $101 million, or 32 cents per share, more than double its loss of $48 million, or 15 cents cents per share a year earlier.

Excluding items, J.C. Penney lost 38 cents per share, worse than the loss of 6 cents per share expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

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

Those declines came even as the broader retail industry appears to be rebounding. Retail sales in 2018 are now forecast to climb higher than what had been expected thanks to U.S. tax reform and other upbeat economic indicators.

"There is something of a party going on in retail, with consumers spending in a relatively carefree way. However, this is a party to which JC Penney was not invited," wrote Saunders. "Its weak sales figures, which rose by a lamentable 0.3% on a comparable basis, suggest that while other players were enjoying the festivities, it was soundly asleep."

The disappointing earnings come as the retailer is without a full-time CEO, after its previous chief executive Marvin R. Ellison resigned this spring to head to the same position at Lowe's.

J.C Penney Chairman Ronald W. Tysoe said Thursday the CEO search "is going well and the board has met with highly qualified candidates who have expressed a strong desire to become the next leader of J.C. Penney. The hiring of a new CEO is the top priority of the Board of Directors and we will continue to expedite the process in order to bring this search to a successful conclusion."

Under Ellison, J.C. Penney had taken a number of efforts to help spur a turnaround, including a focus on beauty and appliances. In a bid to boost traffic, the retailer has focused on its salon business, hoping hair-dresser loyalty would turn into shopping frequency.

In March, it eliminated 230 positions and announced the departure of executive vice president of Penney's omnichannel business, Mike Amend. Last year, it closed more than 100 stores.