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What: Shares of J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) went on another fire sale today, falling as much as 22% after the retailer reported a disastrous fourth quarter.

So what: Some observers had hoped that the struggling department store chain would get a boost, but J.C. Penney got nothing of the sort. The company posted a net loss of $2.51 per share, or $1.95 after adjusting for restructuring and other charges, while Wall Street had expected a loss of just $0.18 a share. Overall sales fell 28.4%, to $3.89 billion, and comparable sales dropped 31.7%. CEO Ron Johnson conceded that "sales and customer traffic were below our expectations in 2012," but he was still optimistic about the overall transformation of the brand, insisting that the company was "making great strides" to improve the customer experience and long-term growth.

Now what: Amazingly, each terrible quarter at J.C. Penney is followed by a worse one. I'm wondering why shares didn't fall further. The company seems pretty much broken at this point and, while the market is clearly hoping Johnson can pull off a turnaround, he may not have enough time to do so. Penney is burning through cash, and will likely need to go further into debt to stay afloat. With an EPS loss of $4.49 for the year, even a small improvement in 2013 won't help. I'd expect more pain in the coming months.

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