Will Q1 Results Reward J.C. Penney Bulls?

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Since reporting fourth-quarter results on after markets closed on February 26, shares of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) are up 48%. The stock is trading above $9 a share, while the consensus price target from 18 brokers at Thomson First Call is just $7.75 in a range of estimates from $2.50 to $15.00.

The retailer is scheduled to release fiscal first-quarter results after markets close on Thursday, and the consensus estimates call for an earnings per share loss of $1.25 on revenues of $2.71 billion. That is smaller than the year-ago net loss of $1.38 per share and slightly better than revenues of $2.64 billion. Whether J.C. Penney beats or misses, it will not be by much either way, and it likely will not change the long-run outlook for the company.

J.C. Penney managed to cobble together liquidity of around $2 billion late last year, and it is that pile of cash that seems to give the stock’s bulls hope. In mid-March, Citigroup analysts raised the stock to a Buy, saying the bank thinks the company can hit its same-store sales guidance for a boost of 3% to 5% in the first quarter and a rise in the mid-single digits for the full-year, putting liquidity concerns to rest.

Short interest in J.C. Penney stock dropped slightly at the end of April to 30.1% of shares outstanding, and all those short sellers have probably been covering their position waiting for the company’s earnings announcement. They undoubtedly believe they are on the side of history and are willing to wait for first-quarter results. None of us has much longer to wait.

Shares traded up about 3.9% in the noon hour Monday, at $9.14 in a 52-week range of $4.90 to $19.63.

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