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You're Not Fooling Anyone This Time, J.C. Penney

Image source: J.C. Penne.

It's official, Fools: Investors are finally taking anything J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) says with a grain of salt.

Shares of J.C. Penney have fallen more than 9% today after it issued the following 64-word press release this morning:

JCPenney reported today that the Company is pleased with its performance for the holiday period, showing continued progress in its turnaround efforts. Customers responded well to the Company's offerings this holiday shopping season, both in store and online.

JCPenney also reaffirmed its outlook for the fourth quarter of 2013, as previously set out in the Company's third quarter earnings release dated Nov. 20, 2013.

Now, I'm all for brevity, but that's assuming that whatever I'm reading actually contains useful information. And by issuing vague statements like that without offering significant supporting figures for why J.C. Penney is "pleased," investors aren't exactly left with the warm fuzzy feeling the company was likely hoping to achieve.

To its credit, J.C. Penney did reiterate existing Q4 guidance, which most notably called for comparable-store sales and gross margin to improve sequentially and year over year. But it didn't exactly set a high bar considering that last year's results were horrendous. What's more, shares of J.C. Penney fell by more than 4% after it told investors that November's same-store sales rose 10.1%. And that increase would have been fine, except most analysts were already hoping J.C. Penney would report double-digit comps in November, anyway. 

In addition, while the guidance also called for total available liquidity to be "in excess of $2 billion at year end," that served as little solace for investors whose stakes were diluted by 38% in Q3 thanks to the company's massive secondary stock offering, through which Goldman Sachs helped it sell 84 million shares at below-market prices.

Worse yet, that offering came less than four months after J.C. Penney secured a mammoth $2.25 billion five-year term loan, also from Goldman Sachs. Then, only a few days earlier, a bond analyst from Goldman also raised eyebrows by recommending investors buy J.C. Penney credit default swaps, which pay if a company defaults on its debt.

We've been here before
So why else are investors revolting today? Well, this isn't the first time J.C. Penney has offered up such an announcement.

In fact, shortly after the September offering was announced, J.C. Penney provided a similar light-on-specifics release, saying it was "pleased with its progress thus far in the Company's turnaround efforts and the traction its initiatives are starting to achieve."

J.C. Penney did follow up nearly two weeks later to describe some of those key metrics, but I still maintain the broader picture was decidedly less rosy than its initial vague pronouncement had indicated. All things considered, it's hard to blame investors for their skepticism this time around. I'm still not convinced J.C. Penney has what it takes to survive over the long term.

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Steve Symington

Technology and consumer goods specialist for the Fool. Steve looks for responsible businesses which positively shape our lives. Then, he invests accordingly. Enjoy his work? Connect with him on Twitter & Facebook so you don't miss a thing.

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9/1/2015 11:42 AM
JCP $9.31 Up +0.20 +2.20%
J.C. Penney Compan… CAPS Rating: *