Retail

The Death of the Mall May Be the Final Blow for JC Penney

Mall traffic will continue to die, one major survey recently said. That leaves retailers that have many of their locations in these buildings in major trouble. None is troubled so much already as J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP). If foot traffic to malls plunges, so does foot traffic to much of its national store footprint.

Coresight Research said that the already slowed use of malls as locations to shop has continued to dip. The spread of new coronavirus will only make that worse. People use malls to move from store to store as they shop for things they are looking for, and often things they are not. These malls already have been hurt by the demise of regular retail residents like Sears. E-commerce has probably made the trend worse.

The traffic through these malls had been critical to J.C. Penney. It often holds one of the anchor spots, usually at the end of a major concourse. Traffic through a mall usually moves up and down these concourses. The anchor position is the lifeblood of the stores that hold them.

J.C. Penney recently released its final-quarter and fiscal-year earnings. The most visible sign of trouble was that same-store sales dropped 7.7% year over year. Adjusted for stores that closed, the figure was nearly as bad: down 5.6%. Total revenue for the year fell 8.1% to $10.7 billion. J.C. Penney had a net loss of $268 million, compared to $255 million the year before.

Jill Soltau, chief executive officer, made an odd comment about results: “In Fiscal 2019, we met or exceeded all five financial guidance metrics for the year, and we delivered our third consecutive quarter of meaningful gross-margin improvement in the fourth quarter.” What kind of metrics are these when the company is heading for obscurity?

J.C. Penney stock, at $0.66 per share, already trades as if the company were headed toward bankruptcy. Having so many mall locations and a drop in mall traffic will speed that day.