J.C. Penney: The Titantic Finally Sinks

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Like the owners and builders of the Titanic, the board and management of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) apparently believed the 110-year old retailer was unsinkable. Or at least CEO Ron Johnson thought so until late last month, when he as much as admitted that his strategy to revive Penney’s had failed.

In the company’s Form 10-K filed today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the retailer spelled out the difficulties it faced and still faces:

During the first year of our transformation, we discontinued our former promotional strategy and encountered difficulties in communicating our value proposition. Although we have re-introduced certain promotional activities, there can be no assurance that increased promotional activity will result in increased sales and profitability. We have experienced, and anticipate that we will continue to experience for at least the foreseeable future, significant competition from promotional activities of our competitors. The performance of competitors as well as changes in their pricing and promotional policies, marketing activities, new store openings, launches of Internet websites, brand launches and other merchandise and operational strategies could cause us to have lower sales, lower gross margin and/or higher operating expenses such as marketing costs and other selling, general and administrative expenses, which in turn could have an adverse impact on our profitability.

In other words, J.C. Penney does not have a strategy to get its mojo back. Competitive pricing pressure and a host of other competitive tactics do not allow J.C. Penney the time or space it needs to recover.

To be fair to Johnson, he inherited a sinking ship and he took drastic action in an attempt to keep the ship afloat. The strategy did not work, and at this point it does not appear that a return to the old discounting and coupon strategy will help either.

J.C. Penney shares are down 2.6% today, at $15.75 in a 52-week range of $14.20 to $37.46.