New leadership may not be enough to make J.C. Penney worthwhile
Dear Mr. Berko:
In 2007, my stockbroker had me buy 100 shares of J.C. Penney at $73. Months later, he had me buy another 100 shares at $62. And because he was very certain it would recover, he had me buy 100 more shares when it had fallen to $47. Finally, in 2009, I bought my last 100 shares at $28, giving me an average cost of $52.50 per share. I still own the stock and want to know whether I should sell my 400 shares or buy the stock again at $1.36 a share.
– H.D., Bloomsburg, Pa.
James Cash Penney was from Missouri. After graduating from high school, Penney moved to Colorado on doctor’s orders, hoping a better climate would improve his rheumatism. And in 1898, Penney went to work for Thomas Callahan and Guy Johnson, who owned the Golden Rule dry goods stores in Colorado and Wyoming. In 1902, Penney opened his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and by 1907, he owned four locations. In 1912, with good past successes, Penney had opened 34 stores in the Mountain States under the J.C. Penney name. By 1928, Penney had over 1,000 stores, generating $190 million in revenues — equivalent to nearly $3 billion in today’s dollars.
Wonder of wonders, in 1940, a lad called Sam Walton took a trainee job at a J.C. Penney store in Iowa. He got a lot of good training; however, 18 months later, Walton was drafted into the Army. In any event, by 1973, there were 2,050 J.C. Penney stores selling thousands of products and pumping profits. But that’s when the troubles began, as the company realized it was competing with Wal-Mart and Sears, which were selling merchandise at discount prices. Then came the 1990s, with big-box stores such as Costco and Target, Circuit City and Best Buy. J.C. Penney’s management fumbled. Then came Amazon.com, and its management stumbled. Along came similar e-commerce platforms, and its management bumbled. And as revenues dropped 40 percent in the past 12 years, J.C. Penney’s store count imploded, falling from 2,050 to 850.
So, like Claire’s, Toys R Us, The Limited, H.H. Gregg, Sports Authority, Aeropostale, Radio Shack, A&P and Sears, each of which is bankrupt, J.C. Penney (JCP-$1.36) lacks the mojo to keep its doors open for another few years. During the past 10 years, JCP has tried appealing to a younger consumer, but revenues have declined steadily, from $20 billion in 2008 to $12.5 billion last year. In any event, JCP still has the reputation of being your grandmother’s store. So, with cumulative losses of nearly $4 billion and little in the way of encouraging news regarding profits, JCP may close more than 100 stores by 2020. Management has reasoned that with fewer stores and lower sales, the company won’t lose as much money in future years. That’s logical!
But now, new leadership has come, in the form of CEO Jill Soltau. Her past is riddled with 30 years of excellent retail experience, impressive product development and an important e-commerce skill set. The board believes that Jill’s skills will be able to turn JCP around, helped by a sizable credit line that will give Jill the liquidity she’ll need. However, I would hope she’d sell some of JCP’s numerous non-core assets before increasing debt.
Without someone of Soltau’s experience, the possibility of a JCP comeback would make a sick cat laugh. However, I like this very classy lady’s retail background, and I like her record of success. And most of all, I was impressed that the people at her previous employer (Jo-Ann Stores) spoke so highly of her.
Here’s my suggestion: Take a humongous speculation and buy 1,000 shares of JCP at $1.36. Wait 31 days, and then sell your 400 shares with a $52.50 basis. There’s a 38.7 percent degree of probability that Jill will turn JCP around and the shares will rise to $6 by September.•
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or email him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.
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