New Clues Why J.C. Penney May Be Making a Comeback

Turn to J.C. Penney’s and Macy’s conference calls for hints.

Jun 16, 2014 at 4:58PM

G
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

As a Foolish investor, it's always a good idea to try and examine the opposing stance of your investment thesis with an open mind to see what you might be missing. Take J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), for example, a stock that I've criticized  plenty in the past. However, I believe the jury is still out. Even though I'm not comfortable enough yet to bet on it, there are certainly some encouraging signs that the struggling retailer just might make it.

Brief recap of the problems
Recall that back on May 16, J.C. Penney reported fiscal first-quarter results. Same-store sales popped 6.1% and were positive for the second sequential quarter. Many investors felt a huge sigh of relief, as a gain in same-store sales that large, especially during the tough industrywide quarter for retail, was a nice accomplishment.

However, the quarter still came with huge losses. A great deal of discounted, clearance inventory was sold. The unusually cold and bad weather, at least according to J.C. Penney back on its November conference call, actually helps the chain as it sells more warm clothes. Last but certainly not least, the "gains" in same-store sales were compared only to the year-ago quarter when the sales for that period got pulverized.

G

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Look at the parade
The first encouraging sign, at least for the long term, comes from competitor Macy's (NYSE:M). Macy's has been able to continue its winning streak year after year and is expecting 2014 to show another 2.5% to 3% in same-store sales gains. Macy's put its money where its mouth is by raising its dividend by 25%; it also increased its share-buyback program by $1.5 billion. Money speaks louder than words in terms of confidence.

During Macy's conference call, Peter Sachse, Macy's chief stores officer, pointed out the growing importance of digital integration shopping that is contributing to its success and outlook. The millennial generation is now the largest generation out there and isn't yet set in their spending ways. This market is still up for the taking before they develop more brand loyalty and before their spending power greatly increases when they're in their 30s and 40s. This is a potential opportunity for J.C. Penney to get market share as well.

J.C. Penney specific
During the conference call, Mike Ullman, CEO of J.C. Penney, stated,

We're in the third and final stage, which we call the go-forward phase, during which we're positioning J.C. Penney for long-term, profitable growth.

As evidence, he pointed out that within the quarter, J.C. Penney saw sequentially improving sales every month. In addition, online sales leaped 25.7%. That's pretty good from any level.

Jc

Old J.C. Penney Store from years ago. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ed Record, J.C. Penney's CFO, added that the month of April saw positive foot traffic. It was the first time in 30 months that J.C. Penney saw a single month of improved foot traffic. That's big. It's one thing to sell more clearance-rack items to the patrons who are still left. It's a whole new ballgame to get new people in the doors.

Perhaps even more encouraging is, according to Ullman, that J.C. Penney is seeing a lot of the same customers return more often. This suggests they are happier with their experience. Part of the reason for that is J.C. Penney is going back to strategies from two-to-three years ago that were working well then but the company had ditched since. For example, Ullman stated,

"I'd say if you look at the category like fine jewelry, we've returned to promotional activity the customer really valued back in 2011 and before."

And what do you know, fine jewelry was one of the best-performing categories.  J.C. Penney didn't provide any specific breakdown here, but it makes you wonder what other areas the company can return to old promotional strategies that worked in years past. In 2011 for example J.C. Penney had an adjusted operating income of $536 million.  Perhaps part of the problem was the company went on to fix things that weren't broken.   

Foolish takeaway
J.C. Penney used to be immensely popular. There is no reason to say it's impossible for it to be so again and for it to rebuild its brand, especially among the younger generation. By adding back things the company knows have worked in the past when it was successful, and slowly but surely creating a growing loyal fan base again, maybe just maybe J.C. Penney can return to stardom. For now, I'll be watching from the sidelines like a hawk for signs, clues, and hints either way.

Forget J.C. Penney for your living room
Your living room is actually a gold mine if you look around.  You know cable's going away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple. 

 

 

Nickey Friedman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers