Why is J.C. Penney Having its Biggest Sale Ever?

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Struggling retailer J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) has started what it is billing as “Our Biggest Sale of Them All” and plans to run it through Saturday, November 9th. Why wait until Black Friday, or even until Thanksgiving Day, when you need the cash now? After all, the company is scheduled to report earnings on November 16th and though the results of this sale won’t be included, it would be nice if the company could say that same-store sales for November on track to beat last year’s numbers. But that shouldn’t be too difficult since same-store sales were down nearly 23% last November.

The most likely reason for moving the store’s Biggest Sale of Them All this far ahead is to generate some cash flow to help with paying the bills. Penney’s protestations aside, more cash sooner is something the store can really use, not just for monthly sales but to help boost quarterly cash flow. Another possibility of course is that the store needs to dump some inventory that isn’t selling in order to get the new stuff on the shelves by Black Friday.

Are Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) or Sears Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ: SHLD) or Kohl’s Corp. (NYSE: KSS) likely to follow suit and tack on a big sale before the Black Friday weekend? Walmart is already well into holiday promotional sales and Penney’s doesn’t scare Walmart anyway.

Sears, which is in nearly as much trouble as Penney’s, is running an online promotion through Veterans Day and Kohl’s is promoting a two-day, 50%-off sale that ends today.

Maybe Penney’s is just indulging in a little hyperbole with its Biggest Sale of Them All promotion. Maybe this is just the biggest until the next one comes along and all of Penney’s customers have forgotten about this one. In fact, the next one could come before Black Friday. Customers have short memories after all.

Research firm Retail Metrics estimates Penney’s same-store sales for October were down 4.1% on top of a drop of around 26% in 2012.

Penney’s stock is down 4.5% at the noon hour on Wednesday at $7.94 in a 52-week range of $6.24 to $23.32.