Martha Stewart, Macy’s Settle Differences, but No Deal With J.C. Penney

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In a brief press announcement issued Thursday, Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) said that it has resolved its breach-of-contract suit with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (NYSE: MSO). The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Macy’s said that its suit against J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) “remains subject to the court’s decision.”

Macy’s sued Penney’s and Martha Stewart Living in April and the two sides can both claim partial victories. Penney’s was blocked from selling any Martha Stewart-branded products and Macy’s failed to win a restraining order that would have blocked Penney’s from selling items designed by Stewart but that did not identify the Stewart brand on the labels or packaging. Penney’s sells the Stewart-designed products under its “Everyday” label.

Just the fact that Penney’s was not included in the settlement announced today is not good news for the struggling company. But it’s not terrible news either. When the court blocked the imposition of a restraining order on Penney’s, it cleared the path for the Macy’s suit to proceed, but Penney’s will only have to cough up some cash if Macy’s can prove that it did indeed suffer harm from the sale of the Stewart-designed goods.

Penney’s has performed so miserably that Macy’s will have a tough time pointing to specific instances of damage. And even if Macy’s can do that, how much can it collect? Squeezing cash out of Penney’s very likely will mean getting in line with a bunch of other creditors when the hammer finally falls.

For its part, Penney’s couldn’t very well offer a settlement that Macy’s would be likely to accept. Macy’s wants its pound of flesh from Penney’s and has nothing to gain from a speedy deal with Penney.

Macy’s stock is down about 0.5% in the noon hour on Thursday at $53.13 in a 52-week range of $36.35 to $54.07.

Martha Stewart Living stock is up more than 8% at $4.55 in a 52-week range of $2.20 to $4.57. The high was set today.

Penney’s stock is down 4% at $8.78 in a 52-week range of $6.24 to $23.10.

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