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TheStreet Open House

How Cheap Is J.C. Penney Now?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Back at the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001, J.C. Penney (JCP) shares were trading for even less than their current price. During that period, the stock changed hands for less than $10 a share.

Six years after J.C. Penney shares hit that bad patch, however, they were approaching $90. For some it was a thrilling ride with a 900% return.

So is it time to load up on JCPenney again, now that it's trading near 52-week lows? Maybe, if you want to hold them for the long term, but the retail space has shifted, raising the risk considerably.

(I recently wrote about what happens when a stock makes new 52-week lows in "J.C. Penney Survival Guide.")

Shoppers have divided retail into the haves and the have-nots; how long a store has been in business doesn't matter anymore in a world where location is one click and a UPS (UPS) delivery van away.

In the same mall you are likely to find Sears (SHLD), Macy's (M), Radio Shack (RSH) and Gamestop (GME).

Sears was once the largest retailer but has since relinquished that distinction to Wal-Mart (WMT). These days, Sears allows third-party merchants to sell within its Web site, similar to what Amazon (AMZN) does.

However, at the individual level, Sears and J.C. Penney are no longer connecting with the consumer. Age and size don't matter as can be seen by Amazon's never-ending market share encroachment on traditional retail.

And you can't simply dismiss J.C. Penney's woes on a so-called price advantage by Amazon, because you also have Macy's, often in the same mall, prospering.

The same holds true for Gamestop and Radioshack. Gamestop eats surf and turf at the Palm restaurant in the Hamptons while Radioshack is eating ramen noodles.

Both are relatively small stores, and Radioshack should have the edge considering they have greater experience, but one decided to sell used games and one decided to sell cell phones.

Macy's and Wal-Mart know what customers want at the right price while Sears and J.C. Penney don't. That's not going to change overnight for J.C. Penney just because Bill Ackman is off the board.

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