Retail

J.C. Penney Stock Gets Boost from Sterne Agee Analyst

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Source: courtesy J.C. Penney Co. Inc.
Shares of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) are getting a boost in premarket trading this morning following initiation of coverage by Sterne Agee with a Buy recommendation and a 12-month price target of $23 a share. Shares closed at $18.16 last night. The brokerage firm’s note acknowledges that J.C. Penney is “on its back,” but offers some positive thoughts on why it has chosen to take the other side of the bet.

Analyst Charles Grom believes that the change in leadership, the return to successful past practices, and “a willingness to go against the herd” will move the company’s shares higher beginning in the second half of this year. He admits, however, that his call “is not for the faint of heart.”

Grom expects J.C. Penney to revert to its former focus on private brands, promotions and coupons to lure past customers back into the stores. He also expects the company to leverage the cost improvements made by former CEO Ron Johnson and his team. New CEO Mike Ullman is expected to bring J.C. Penney’s focus back to store brands, which will weigh on same-store sales and profit margins in the second quarter of 2013, but should begin to produce results in the back-to-school season when J.C. Penney’s traditionally has held strength.

J.C. Penney’s effort is one of those “back to the future” moments. As Grom notes, the strategy that Ullman is reviving worked very well for the company in the years between 2006 and 2009. But during Ullman’s tenure at the top of J.C. Penney, shares lost an average of 2% a year — far better than during Johnson’s term, but still nothing to celebrate.

J.C. Penney shares are up about 1.2% in premarket trading this morning, at $18.37 in a 52-week range of $13.55 to $32.55.