JC Penney’s stock tanks on widening net loss, weaker sales traffic

J.C. Penney‘s stock plunged Friday after the embattled retailer reported weak comparable sales and a massive net loss in the first quarter.

Shares of the stock fell more than 6 percent on this news in premarket trading.

The stock drop came after the company reported revenue that also fell short of estimates in the quarter. Earnings, however, topped analysts’ expectations.

Here’s what the company reported vs. what the Street was expecting:

  • Earnings per share: 6 cents, excluding items, vs. a forecast loss of 21 cents, according to Thomson Reuters analysts’ estimates.
  • Revenue: $2.71 billion vs. an estimate of $2.77 billion, Thomson Reuters analysts said.
  • Same-store sales: 3.5 percent drop vs. a forecast 0.6 percent drop, according to FactSet estimates.

The department store operator’s net loss widened to $180 million, or 58 cents per share, in the first quarter, from $68 million, or 22 cents per share, a year ago.

This was largely due to weaker sales at brick-and-mortar locations during February and higher costs related to store closures and employee severance packages, the company said.

“While February was a very challenging month for JCPenney and broader retail, we are pleased with our comp store sales for the combined March and April period, which improved significantly versus February,” CEO Marvin Ellison said in a statement.

The company said it booked $220 million of restructuring charges associated with store closings and a voluntary early retirement program during the quarter.

Regarding sales, the retailer said its Home, Sephora, Fine Jewelry and Salon business segments all comped positively during the period and were Penney’s top performing divisions.

Penney’s reaffirmed its outlook for fiscal 2017, expecting comparable sales — a closely watched metric — to fall within a range of negative 1 percent to positive 1 percent. It has forecast adjusted earnings at 40 cents to 65 cents per share.

Inventory at the end of Penney’s first quarter was $2.95 billion, an increase of 0.8 percent from the same period last year and heightened because of more floor samples for appliance showrooms and higher inventory levels to support new Sephora shops, to which J.C. Penney has been dedicating more resources of late.

“The real challenge for JCP is how to persuade customers visiting Sephora to become loyal JCP shoppers who visit and spend in other areas of the store,” GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders wrote in an email.

“The impact of having a popular beauty player as part of the offer cannot be underestimated. Without it, customer traffic and sales would have tumbled far further and faster; and JCP would have attracted far fewer younger shoppers.”

Earlier this year, Penney’s firmed up plans to downsize its brick-and-mortar fleet, telling investors it will close 138 stores starting on April 17 and running through the second quarter.

During the fourth quarter, the retailer’s revenue and same-store sales fell shy of Street expectations, raising worries that the store closure plan won’t be enough to revive sluggish sales.

CEO Ellison also announced the retailer will shutter two distribution centers this year. This will help Penney’s invest in its more profitable stores and “raise the overall brand standard of the company,” Ellison said at the time.

The 138 stores being closed represent 13 to 14 percent of J.C. Penney’s store portfolio but generate less than 5 percent of annual sales, the company said.

Ellison has been leading a turnaround effort at Penney’s since he took control in August 2015. For example, he’s spearheaded the retailer’s return to selling appliances and a push in the department store’s fashion offerings into plus sizes.

J.C. Penney’s restructuring efforts are another example of department store woes. Macy’s and Nordstrom, which are increasingly losing market share to off-price competitors and e-commerce giant Amazon.

As of Thursday’s close, shares of Penney’s have fallen nearly 33 percent over the past 12 months and are down 36 percent this year.

JCP 5-day performance

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