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Rough March for J.C. Penney

The company issues gloomy earnings guidance.

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get J. C. Penney Company, Inc. Report

said March comparable department store sales fell 5.5% due to the weak economy and the war. The shares fell 5% to $17.94.

The company also said first-quarter sales and earnings will be lower than anticipated.

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Department store sales during the five weeks ended March 29 were $1.17 billion, compared with $1.25 billion in the same period last year.

Comparable drugstore sales at the company's Eckerd unit decreased 3.0%, with pharmacy sales increasing 1.3% and front-end sales decreasing 11.6%. Catalog sales fell 13.1% but Internet sales, which are included in catalog, increased 19%. The best performing categories were fine jewelry, juniors, and missy casual sportswear, the company said.

Total company sales during March were $2.84 billion, compared with $2.97 billion in the prior-year period.

For the first quarter, the company now expects to earn 18 cents to 23 cents a share, compared with 29 cents a share in the first quarter of 2003. Analysts expect 32 cents a share, on average.

Shares of the Plano, Texas-based company were falling 6% recently to $17.75 in premarket trading, according to Instinet.