With the Eckerd drugstore anchor finally cut loose, it looks like smooth sailing ahead for retailer J.C. Penney
The company's crystal ball proved fairly accurate, as earnings from continuing operations released this morning hit the high end of that range, $0.23 per share, or $72 million, versus a prior-year loss of $3 million. This excludes a $71 million loss from discontinued operations associated with the sale of Eckerd. Revenues rose 5.8% to $3.86 billion on same-store sales that accelerated to finish 7.1% higher for the quarter. These numbers stand in stark contrast to rival Sears
The cost-cutting measures that translated to higher earnings last quarter again yielded substantial bottom-line rewards. Operating margins jumped to 4.0% from 1.4%, gross margins expanded 150 basis points to 37.4%, and SG&A expenses were shaved by more than a full point. These improvements helped operating profits triple from $53 million to $156 million. The only real weakness came from catalog sales, as catalog/Internet combined fell 1.6%, but Internet sales alone surged 30% higher.
Not only have J.C. Penney's operations rebounded, but also the company's balance sheet has strengthened considerably. Proceeds from the sale of Eckerds will help eliminate $2.3 billion in debt, and another $3.4 billion in lease obligations will be wiped clean.
Furthermore, the company plans to redeem all of its outstanding preferred stock, which will cut dividend payments by $11 million annually, convert $650 million of convertible securities into common stock, and repurchase up to 75 million shares. As a result, the net diluted shares outstanding will be reduced by 21% to 250 million. The changes in capital structure have prompted ratings agency Fitch to raise its ratings on J.C. Penney's $5.2 billion debt and give the company a positive credit outlook.
Even though shares recently hit multiyear highs, the stock is still trading at only around 13.5 times forward earnings. The valuation seems fair, if not compelling, for a company with sustained same-store sales growth, significant margin expansion, a vastly improved balance sheet, a strong earnings outlook, and an upbeat start to the third quarter.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.