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Making a Case for J.C. Penney

There is more good news on the technology front. J.C. Penney is working with Shopkick on an app that can alert people to sales while they're in the store. The Web site is already featuring the same pricing it's advertising for Black Friday, along with free shipping on orders of more than $100.

Online sales for the company have been stabilizing since the summer, and its traffic during the back-to-school season was said to be strong. The site now features traditional J.C. Penney merchandise, mostly warm clothes, and the discounts are marked prominently.

Overall retail sales are ticking upward. Income gains seem to be going to people who like a traditional mall. J.C. Penney stores seem to be located where the growth is.

The company is not out of the woods. Retail analyst Howard Davidowitz still thinks the company will have to file for bankruptcy so it can close stores and remake its balance sheet. Long-term debt is still a big problem, and the company's raising of $1 billion in equity during September diluted shareholders.

But some smart folks, such as Legg Mason's Bill Miller, are now nibbling on that J.C. Penney debt, some of which carries a coupon rate of 12%. Avenue Capital has also been buying J.C. Penney bonds. Many will disagree, but some feel that the company retains some levers it can press to pay back bondholders.

Right now, the J.C. Penney turnaround is little more than a trade. This is not yet an investment grade stock. The comeback in malls is uneven -- Sears (SHLD) remains a disaster. But there are enough green shoots, enough short-term optimism, for people to make a little money.

J.C. Penney's needs a little Christmas, right this very minute, as they sang in the musical Mame. It needs an old-fashioned, 20th century, mall-driven Christmas, and it may be getting one. The season is coming just in time. At the time of publication the author owned no shares of companies mentioned in this article.

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

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