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Malls May Still Be in Trouble, but the Suffering Is Not Spread Evenly

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated May 25, 2018 at 1:14PM

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Macy’s, Nordstrom, and J.C. Penney just reported earnings, and the results show it’s still possible for some department stores to succeed.

If there's one thing we know about the "retail apocalypse," it's that the pain of it is being felt most keenly in America's malls.

In this segment of the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill and Fool analysts Jason Moser, Matt Argersinger, and Ron Gross review the latest earnings reports from the department stores that anchor those fading monuments to commerce and discover at least some good news: Macy's (M 2.20%) comps rose nicely, but Nordstrom (JWN 0.54%) and J.C. Penney (JCPN.Q) managed only fractional gains. They also reflect on the long decline of department store sales -- it's longer than you think -- the planned BJ's Wholesale IPO, the future of J.C. Penney, and more.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on May 18, 2018.

Chris Hill: Let's move on to the malls. We had reports this week from Macy's, JCPenney, Nordstrom. In general, Matty, it's pretty rough out there. Although, Macy's did surprise a lot of people. That stock is up more than 10%.

Matt Argersinger: Right. Macy's had comparable sales up 4.2%. On the flip side, you had Nordstrom, which was just up 0.6%. JCPenney, up just 0.2%. It's a real mixed bag. I was looking at this very long-term chart of the sales of department stores. This is courtesy of the U.S. Census. I was surprised at this. Department store sales, this includes the Macy's and Nordstrom's of the world, sales actually peaked in 2000. So, we have to go back 18 years ago. If you go back to 2000, most people still hadn't heard of Amazon, let alone shopped on it. And we had this narrative, well, this e-commerce rise for the last two decades has really kicked the teeth in at a lot of these department stores.

But really, I think it's more of a phenomenon of consumer behavior. People have decided not to go to malls. Specifically, you're not going to department stores. So, we can talk about the death of malls and the demise of traditional retail, but you can see the retail sales in general have continued to rise for the last two decades, and e-commerce is a part of that. But, I feel like these companies are just slicing and dicing a smaller and smaller pie.

Jason Moser: I'll tell you, in line with what you're saying there, it actually shocked me a little bit to see this week that BJ's Wholesale Club is going to go public again after being taken private a little while back. We talk about Costco and how they've done such a great job in running that bricks-and-mortar store in what's becoming more and more an online environment. To me, there are just so many red flags with that BJ's Club IPO filing. I don't understand exactly what they think they're going to do here. But, they really do have their work cut out for them between Costco and, don't forget, Walmart has Sam's Club, as well.

Hill: Is it possible that what's going on with BJ's is simply, the company that took them private is looking for an exit strategy?

Ron Gross: Ding ding ding ding!

Moser: I think it's more than possible. I think it's very, very likely.

Gross: You know, department stores are not dead. There's always going to be department stores. The problem was, it got out of hand. There were too many stores and the footprint was too large. So, kudos to Macy's, who did what they had to do and closed a hundred stores and laid off thousands of employees. And that hurts, and it's painful. But if the business isn't working, you have to make those tough decisions. This last quarter showed some pretty good results from Macy's. And it'll be interesting to see if they can follow through.

Argersinger: I'll just note that Nordstrom was down about 10% on Friday to $46 a share. So, that $50 take-private deal by the family is looking pretty good right now, if you're a shareholder.

Hill: That was going to be my next question. It seems like, with Nordstrom, for as good a business as that has been over the last 20 years, it seems like a stock that you would be crazy to buy, just because it's all about the Nordstrom family and their attempt to take it private, right?

Gross: Pretty much. And that puts a value on the business that you can see. It's 15X earnings, I want to say, right now, which is not expensive. But, when you look at Macy's at 8X, it gets a little pricey up there, and it doesn't look to me like it would be a market-beater over the next few years.

Hill: The last thing on JCPenney, and I'm sorry to end on this note. Are we getting into RadioShack territory here? It really seems like this business has been so challenged for so long that it's almost a real estate play at this point.

Argersinger: I don't know if it's any kind of play, to be honest with you. I think the mall business, the department store business itself, is shrinking, and JCPenney is just the worst of the worst.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Hill owns shares of Amazon. Jason Moser has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Matthew Argersinger owns shares of Amazon. Ron Gross owns shares of Amazon and Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale and Nordstrom. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

J. C. Penney Company, Inc. Stock Quote
J. C. Penney Company, Inc.
Macy's, Inc. Stock Quote
Macy's, Inc.
$19.96 (2.20%) $0.43
Nordstrom, Inc. Stock Quote
Nordstrom, Inc.
$24.37 (0.54%) $0.13

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