JC Penney earnings bad, but not that bad

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

J.C. Penney on Tuesday posted a wider-than-expected quarterly loss of $1.17 a share on $2.66 billion in revenues, but its store sales improved from the previous quarter and its stock price jumped.

Analysts had expected Penny to report a second quarter loss of $1.06 a share on $2.76 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.

Penney's stock soared Tuesday, getting an additional boost by reports that Kyle Bass's Hayman Capital had taken a large equity position. (Click here to get the latest quote.)

(Read more: Kyle Bass goes long JC Penney: Source)

Penney also reported sales at stores open at least a year had fallen 11.9 percent in the second quarter, during which it reverted to a promotions-heavy strategy to try to halt a sharp sales decline.

"That's a sequential improvement from the down 16.6 percent in the first quarter. So I would say the numbers are closely in line," Mary Ross Gilbert, managing director at Imperial Capital, told CNBC shortly after Penney released its results. "We were [also] seeing a sequential improvement throughout the quarter. Comp sales were improving throughout the quarter."

Penney CEO Mike Ullman described the back-to-school season as "encouraging" so far.

But he added: "We're facing headwinds of declining mall traffic. We know where the problems are, how to address them, and have the plans in place."

Meanwhile, hedge-fund manager Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital, is said to be betting on the future of J.C. Penney through the purchase of the retailer's debt, according to a report from Bloomberg.

"The debt, we think, is a great way to play the bet on J.C. Penney's turnaround," Gilbert said in a "Squawk Box" interview.

Bass joins billionaire investor George Soros in the bullish camp. Soros stepped into Penney shortly after CEO Ron Johnson was ousted in the spring after just 17 months on the job.

Largest Penney shareholder Bill Ackman, whose firm Pershing Square Capital owns about an 18 percent stake, had handpicked Johnson from Apple's retail arm. Last week, Ackman resigned from the retailer's board, after two years of campaigning to transform the troubled department store operator.

The second quarter was the full first period under Ullman, who returned to the helm in April to fix the damage wrought by Johnson. Johnson left after his efforts to make Penney more trendy led to a 25 percent sales decline last year.

—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC. Wires contributed to this report.