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The War Over J.C. Penney

Stocks in this article: JCPMHLF

But there's a lot to clean up. To top off Ullman's morning, closing arguments are now taking place in a New York trial over Johnson's effort to poach Martha Stewart from Macy's (M). That case could cost Penney cash as well as sales, not to mention another hit to its reputation.

By any conventional measure, Penney stock should be a bargain. Even under Johnson, Penney managed sales of almost $13 billion for the year ended on Groundhog's Day, but it carries a market cap of just $3.2 billion. A stable retailer will usually be worth half its annual sales, Penney had $17 billion in sales just a year ago, and so if Ullman can just make the company what it was before Johnson showed up, the stock price should easily double.

There also remains a lot of goodwill for Penney. The failure of a Penney's store can mean the death of an entire shopping mall, as readers of the Salisbury, North Carolina Post are finding out this week as a Penney's store closes there.

The fate of Penney's, then, is tied up in a lot of issues. The hedge fund era, the collapse of the suburban shopping mall and the great American department store, the role of technology in retailing, and there are a host of personal stories in play as well.

How much easier it would be if results depended upon saving pennies in the wrapping of packages.Ullman's goal is to return Penney to those kinds of questions, to make it boring again. Boring would be nice. At this point, boring would also be very profitable for those who hold J.C. Penney stock.

At the time of publication, the author had no investments in companies mentioned here.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a tech reporter since 1982. His specialty has been getting to the future ahead of the crowd, then leaving before success arrived. That meant covering the Internet in 1985, e-commerce in 1994, the Internet of Things in 2005, open source in 2005 and, since 2010, renewable energy. He has written for every medium from newspapers and magazines to Web sites, from books to blogs. He still seeks tomorrow from his Craftsman home in Atlanta.
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