Are These 3 Companies Doomed?

Are the doomsday predictions about J.C. Penney, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble wrong?

Apr 23, 2014 at 6:01PM

I often see stories with titles like "10 Companies That Won't Be Around in 10 years." The list usually includes companies with well-known struggles such as J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), and Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS). While each faces some challenges, should we really put them on deathwatch? Let's take a closer look at these struggling companies.

Doomglooom

They might be right
In preparing for this article, I visited my local JCPenney. I cannot accurately say how long it has been since I'd last been inside one, but I do know it was several years. If I'm at all representative of a typical JCPenney shopper, then I guess we know its main problem.

This, however, is but one issue on a lengthy list of very public problems. A few months ago, it appeared that this company was headed for certain doom: Management disasters related to former CEO Ron Johnson and new pricing methods, its exit from the outmoded catalog business, large layoffs, and  battles with activist investor Bill Ackman.

Lately, J.C. Penney's share price has been all over the place. This year alone, it has climbed to over $9 and dove to below $5 just a month later. Currently, it is back near its January prices, but its financials tell a scary story. In 2010, it reported a net operating cash flow of $1.58 billion. For 2014, it was -$1.81 billion. Most analysts seem to rate the stock a hold, but I don't know that I agree. At this point, I have to wonder how much more bad news this company can withstand. The doomsday prognosticators may be right on this one. At any rate, I wouldn't consider adding it to my portfolio.

Maybe, maybe not
Best Buy is often picked as a company that may not survive much longer and "showrooming" has often been cited as the reason why. Sure, this is a problem for all retailers, but this is not Best Buy's only challenge. It faces a familiar foe: competition. Office supply superstores like Office Depot offer many of the same products and even electronics repair services similar to Best Buy's Geek Squad. And when it comes to appliances, most shoppers think of Home Depot, Lowe's, or even Sears before visiting their local Best Buy. Mine has several appliances sitting out on its sidewalk. While it looks a bit odd, I suppose it reminds passersby that they sell them.

Best Buy may be facing some challenges right now, but its demise isn't necessarily a guarantee. Just a few years ago, home furnishings retailer Pier 1 Imports faced near-extinction as well. At one point, it had suffered 16 consecutive quarters of declining same-store sales. By late 2007, Pier 1 had become a penny stock, trading as low as 11 cents a share in 2009. But Pier 1 avoided bankruptcy and battled back, cutting overhead and attacking its debt, selling off assets and even buying back its own debt for pennies on the dollar. Today, Pier 1 is trading well above $18 , same-store sales continue to rise, and it recently reported a gross profit of $746 million. This proves that even in the volatile retail industry, turnarounds can happen. If Best Buy can take control of its struggles, it could come back stronger than ever.

The one they're wrong about
If you've read my previous article on B&N, then you know I am far from being bullish on B&N. However, that doesn't mean I think it's doomed. I still think it suffers from some management issues, but the company has a lot going for it. Its stock is currently trading around $20, a price it seems to frequently return to no matter how far it dives . B&N's net income is also on the rise, climbing from -$6.06 million to $63.23 million year over year. However, not everything looks good about this book retailer. It is currently operating with negative margins and no analysts are calling it a buy. The consensus is to hold B&N if you have it.

Still, many of us love books and bookstores. While B&N has certainly struggled to find the balance between being a brick-and-mortar retailer and a digital content provider, it has outlived its physical competitors -- namely the now defunct Borders -- and it has kept pace with the likes of Amazon.com and Apple in the still-growing e-book market. However, Nook has also dragged B&N down, causing the company to lose over a billion dollars and forcing management to look for a buyer for its e-book business. If B&N can get out from under the debt caused by Nook, it should be in a good position to have a successful turnaround. Much like Pier 1, if B&N can shed its financial burdens and find its way back to its retail core, B&N's stores should be around for quite some time.  

The bottom line
Indeed, all three of these companies are facing some challenges, and if you're holding shares of any of them, you're likely in store for a bumpy ride in the short term. However, in the long run, it may not all be doom and gloom. All three have weathered storms in the past and, with some good leadership, they should be able to weather current storms. That said, it would seem that anyone looking to buy into any of these rocky companies would be placing a pretty big bet.

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Ryan Lowery has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Barnes & Noble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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