If a stock price is supposed to predict a company's future profits, then J.C. Penney's (JCP) bottom line could be under siege for most of the year.
Shares of the department store have plunged nearly 13% to $5.38 over the last month, badly underperforming the S&P 500's 0.7 percent gain. The stock is at its lowest level in more than 10 years, according to Yahoo Finance data.
The showing for J.C. Penney's stock is almost as bad as that of dying mall rival Sears Holding Corp. (SHLD) , whose stock has crashed 13.5% in one month's time due to fears of it going out of business. Macy's (M) shares have stayed relatively steady as Wall Street holds out hope that new CEO Jeff Gennette could turn the retailer around.
TheStreet takes a brief look at what may be sparking concerns among investors on J.C. Penney.
Lower-income shoppers spent cautiously in the first quarter.
Judging by earnings reports from several big-name consumer companies, J.C. Penney's lower-income shoppers probably spent cautiously in the first quarter as they awaited their tax refunds. In turn, that could put J.C. Penney at risk of falling short of Wall Street's sales and profit estimates for the first quarter.
Procter & Gamble's (PG) CFO Jon Moeller told TheStreet in an interview that a big factor to its sluggish first-quarter results were delayed tax refunds. It's a factor that also weighed on other consumer companies such as PepsiCo (PEP) , Unilever (UL) and Foot Locker (FL) .
"It's a big deal for lower-income consumers," Moeller said, adding that sales improved in March as tax checks started to hit accounts.
"We saw it in the numbers. The early-quarter numbers clearly were lower from a growth perspective. Once we got past February 15, we really saw the numbers pick up," PepsiCo CFO Hugh Johnston told TheStreet.
J.C. Penney may have to close even more stores.
In February, J.C. Penney announced a plan to shut down 138 underperforming stores. The store closures, which are poised to be completed by July 31, represent 13% to 14% of J.C. Penney's current store base and less than 5% of annual sales.
J.C. Penney had said same-store sales at the targeted locations were "significantly below" the remaining store base and operate at a much-higher-expense rate due to poor productivity. The company is expected to gain some $200 million in annual cost savings from the closings.
But, some on Wall Street think J.C. Penney will be forced to close an even greater number of stores due to the shift to online shopping.
"While encouraged by J.C. Penney's decision to close 138 stores, most of which are in rural and lower-productivity locations, we remain concerned that the bulk of J.C Penney stores are in low-quality C- and D-rated mall locations that we expect to come under significant pressure over the next 3-4 years," wrote Credit Suisse analyst Christian Buss on April 19 after meeting with J.C. Penney executives.
Added Buss, "To this end, management now seems to be acknowledging what we see as the inevitable decline of the lower-tier mall in the United States. As a result, the company has indicated that it may close up to an additional 100 doors over the medium term, suggesting total closing of 23-24% of total stores."
Buss, who rates J.C. Penney shares at an underperform, cautions that the retailer's profit margins haven't yet reached a trough given the industry's challenges.
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