The short seller bet against J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) grew sharply in the period that ended August 31. Shares sold short rose by 21 million to a total of 142 million, which is an extremely high 49% of the retailer’s float. A large number of investors believe that J.C. Penney will continue to have trouble surviving in an extremely crowded retail market in which it has been eaten alive by competition.
J.C. Penney shares have continued their nose dive so far this year, down 50% to $4.20, against a 52-week high of $10.74. Over the past five years, the stock has fallen 83%.
The latest round of results from traditional retailers has encouraged investors to believe that J.C. Penney cannot buck a tide that is much broader than its own results. Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) shares are off 38% this year to $22. Shares of Sears Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ: SHLD), the parent of Sears and Kmart, are off 25% to $7.70. There is a great deal of educated speculation that Sears cannot remain solvent and the common shareholders will be wiped out soon. Whether or not it is fair, much of Wall Street has lumped J.C. Penney in the same class.
J.C. Penney missed earnings estimates last quarter, which only served to show that it has not pulled out of its nose dive. Amazon was blamed, which has become commonplace whenever a traditional retailer posts poor results. J.C. Penney does not have a robust online presence to serve as an anchor as store traffic drops. The company continues to tinker with what it should and should not stock in its stores. On that front, it has had no luck. Worse, its brand may have suffered so badly that many shoppers will never return.
J.C. Penney’s short interest is a reasonable evaluation of its prospects. That means it shares are headed lower.