J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) shares finished up 8% today after the struggling retailer reported its latest earnings and investors responded to positive momentum. Though comparable sales were down 4.8% in the quarter, October comps saw a 0.9% rise, and CEO Myron Ullman promised continued sales improvements in the fourth quarter.

Still, J.C. Penney dug such a hole for itself under former CEO Ron Johnson that a true comeback -- getting to positive earnings -- is going to take years, if the company can even get there. Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman explains below.

Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Sean O'Reilly 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.