JCPenney Reports Loss, Tumbles After-Market

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - JC Penney ( JCP) was falling in after-hours trading Thursday after reporting a first-quarter loss of $348 million, or $1.58 per share.

Net loss for the quarter totaled $289 million, or $1.31 a share when adjusted for charges related to the retailer's restructuring and management transition. Plano, Texas-based JC Penney said restructuring charges were $72 million.

The stock was tumbling 2.9% in after-hours trading after closing at $18.79.

JC Penney disclosed last week that total sales dropped by 16.4% over the prior year, to $2.64 billion compared to year-earlier sales of $3.15 billion. The retailer also said comparable store sales declined by approximately 16.6% for the quarter compared to the same period last year, which were negatively affected by the ongoing transformation of its home department, the company said.

"Our objective is to put JC Penney back on a path to profitable growth," Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III, said in his first earnings statement after being reinstated as CEO.

JC Penney's underperformance reflects investor concerns that the company had faltered under the leadership of ex-CEO Ron Johnson, who chose to jettison the company's signature promotions in favor of "everyday low price." The move never resonated with customers, leaving the company and its stock price to suffer.

JC Penney replaced Johnson last month by bringing back Ullman, whose first order of business was to bring back sales and promotions.

Besides returning to promotions and sales - Ullman said there were more than 20 "occasions" the company identified as promotional opportunities -- one of the biggest initiatives the company plans to do is bring back a handful of popular private-label brands that had been abandoned under previous leadership, such as St. John's Bay.

"The core of our business is the private label, private brand business," Ullman said on the company's earnings conference call. "We diminished several of the key brands during this phase and we lost a lot of traffic."

Ullman is targeting back-to-school sales as the company's first big test since taking over the company for a second time.

"We believe we will be in sufficient inventory position to vigorously compete. We're spending a lot of time making sure we get the merchandise in the stores ... getting the internet realigned, there's a lot of moving parts," Ullman says. It's a seven-week span, "I would expect us to be ready to compete across the board."

Gross margin dropped from 37.6% of sales to 30.8%, which was "negatively impacted by lower-than-expected sales, a higher level of clearance merchandise sales and a return to some promotional activity towards the end of the quarter," the company said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Wal-Mart Stores ( WMT) and Kohl's ( KSS) also reported first-quarter earnings. Wal-Mart's earnings fell short of analysts' expectations, while Kohl's beat estimates, even with both reporting disappointing sales.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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