Don't Fall for J.C. Penney's Trap

The last two hours of trading in shares of J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) were wild.

Shares of the struggling department store chain were flat until shortly after 2 p.m., when CEO Ron Johnson offered up some encouraging news on the progress of its ambitious makeover.

With just a half hour of trading to go on Wednesday, the stock was trading as much as 12% higher. It had given back nearly all of those gains by the market close.

What did Johnson say that excited and ultimately frightened investors? Well, the positive nugget is that sales for the brand stores -- the key store-in-a-store approach that will find dozens of small brand-specific storefronts -- were trending 20% higher than the rest of J.C. Penney.

That may seem like good news, but keep in mind that comps fell by a staggering  21.7% in its latest fiscal quarter. Comparing any chain's success to what's happening at J.C. Penney isn't really setting the bar too high.

However, Johnson also pointed out that the overall picture hasn't been so hot this month.

"The last two weeks have been much tougher than we planned," he said, just about the time that the stock began to give back its intraday gains.

Is it a coincidence that once J.C. Penney stopped offering free haircuts to kids on Sundays in August the registers stopped ringing in September? Now we know why the chain is bringing back the free snips for tots come November.

Johnson arrived at the company last year with plenty of fanfare. After cutting his teeth at Target (NYSE: TGT  ) , he went to work for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) in time to oversee the birthing of the Apple Store concept.

Unfortunately for J.C. Penney, there's no cheap-chic or Genius Bar concept that can save a chain that has only alienated and confused shoppers. Just wait until the company's next quarterly report. Don't buy into Johnson's anecdotes. Wait for J.C. Penney to prove that it's truly growing its sales again.

Don't be surprised if it's a long wait.

More square than fair
Johnson may not be providing the turnaround J.C. Penney needs, but he'll always be known for his success at Apple. The technology front-runner has delivered market-smashing returns for those lucky enough to invest in it.  However, with the impending release of the iPhone 5 on the horizon, the stakes have never been higher for the company. If you're looking for a recommendation on how to play Apple along with continuing updates and guidance on the company whenever news breaks, we've created a new premium report on Apple that details the opportunities and challenges in store. To get started, just click here now.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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