JC Penney Slipstreaming on Macy's Earnings

Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Today appears to be one of those days for J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP).

Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) reported fourth-quarter and full-year earnings Tuesday morning that were better-than-expected, and that is giving a boost to most department store stocks. Dillard’s Inc. (NYSE: DDS) also reported earnings this morning, handily beating expectations as well.

Are we about to see a restoration of traditional brick-and-mortar department to their former glory? And if so, what’s behind it?

At Macy’s, cost of sales were about flat, as was gross margin, and SG&A expenses were down less than 1%. A 1.8% increase in net sales and a $235 million gain on the sale of its San Francisco Union Square men’s store made the difference.

Macy’s has closed 83 of the approximately 100 stores it said in August 2016 that it planned to close. Last year it closed 16 Macy’s stores and opened two. This reduces expenses but it also whittles revenues.

J.C. Penney closed about 140 stores last year and announced in January that it would close eight more. Earlier this month, the company announced that it is closing its Wisconsin distribution center.

When J.C. Penney reports earnings Friday, analysts are looking for fourth-quarter earnings per share (EPS) of $0.47, compared with $0.64 in the year-ago quarter. Quarterly revenues are estimated at $4.05 billion, up about 2.3% year over year. For the full year, analysts are looking for EPS of $0.11 on sales of $12.52 billion, compared with EPS of $0.08 and sales of $12.55 billion a year ago.

As with Macy’s, the bar has not been set very high for J.C. Penney. Any kind of beat could send the stock up even more. Conversely, a miss could be seriously bad news.

One last note: One good quarter does not make a trend. Retailers, especially department stores, have been getting beaten up for a couple of years now, and none more so than J.C. Penney.

J.C. Penney stock traded up nearly 10% Tuesday morning, at $4.57 in a 52-week range of $2.35 to $6.53.