Retail

JC Penney Staggers Into Holidays

While some retailers already have started to trumpet their holiday successes, at least one can barely hang on to the impression it may still exist in 2020. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) stock trades at only $1.13 a share. It has traded just either side of $1 since April and spent much of that time under a buck. If J.C. Penney were to show any kind of recovery, it would be because investors believed the holiday might be better than the rest of the year and that the company would offer the promise of viability.

Large retailers, particularly Walmart and Target, have posted good financial results recently and offered signals that the balance of 2019 will be a period of robust sales. One reason is improved e-commerce. Redesigned stores may play a part too. So might their programs that allow people to order online and pick up those orders at stores. Investments in online operations and the strength of their brick-and-mortar logistics have given these retailers plenty of advantages.

J.C. Penney has few such advantages, and it has become more troubled because of its modest store footprint. It has only 850 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. Walmart has 4,759 U.S. stores blanketing areas that have most of the country’s population. Because J.C. Penney lost $94 million last quarter and comparable-store sales fell 9.3%, it almost certainly still has a number of stores that lose money. That means these will drag on fourth-quarter numbers, which will drive another period in which J.C. Penney reports trouble.

The question about J.C. Penney being “downsized” by its debt owners or liquidated is no longer whether it will happen but when. If holiday sales are as poor as likely, it may happen early next year.