Analysts Debate: Can J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (JCP) Become a Top Stock Once Again?

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The Motley Fool has been making successful stock picks for many years, but we don’t always agree on what a great stock looks like. That’s what makes us “motley,” and it’s one of our core values. We can disagree respectfully, as we often do. Investors do better when they share their knowledge.

In that spirit, we three Fools have banded together to find the market’s best and worst stocks, which we’ll rate on The Motley Fool’s CAPS system as outperformers or underperformers. We’ll be accountable for every pick based on the sum of our knowledge and the balance of our decisions. Today, we’ll be discussing J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP), one of the oldest and most well-known apparel retailers in the U.S.

J.C. Penney by the numbers
Here’s a quick snapshot of the company’s most important numbers:

Metric Result (TTM or most recent available)
Market cap $3.28 billion
Revenue $12.98 billion
Price/book 1
Price/sales 0.3
Price/cash flow 10.9
Forward P/E N/A
Cash/debt $930 million/ $2.98 billion
Competitors Macy’s (NYSE:M)
Kohl’s
Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD)

Source: Yahoo! Finance, Morningstar. TTM = trailing 12 months. N/A = Earnings are expected to be negative over the next 12 months.

Sean’s take
I don’t have a word to describe just how horrific J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP)’s fourth-quarter results were. It obliterated every imaginable barrier for how bad a company could perform on a year-over-year basis. Total revenue plunged 28.4%, same-store sales fell 31.7%, and direct-to-consumer sales caved 34.4%. Cumulatively for the entire year, Penney’s reported a loss of $985 million. These results have left J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP)’s and investors at a crossroads. We know something needs to be done (and quickly), but the question is whether or not management has all the right answers now.

J C Penney Company Inc (JCP)Looking at this from the bulls’ perspective, Penney’s is now as cheap as it’s been relative to sales and book value since the height of the recession. Penney’s is a well-known department store that’s one of the anchor brands often found in malls. In addition, it doesn’t have a novice at the helm. CEO Ron Johnson has a history of success under his belt, having led Target (NYSE:TGT) to success in the mid-1990s after he altered the company’s strategy to go after designer brands. Johnson understood early that consumers crave designer brands and moved Target back into relevance. His greatest victory came with the opening of Apple‘s first retail store in 2001; I think we all know how well that turned out.

However, investors couldn’t care less about Johnson’s past successes because his current plans have failed to produce anywhere near the desired results. Johnson attempted to remove sales from Penney’s stores and instead introduced a low everyday pricing strategy. The plan backfired after roughly a year with comparable-store sales nose-diving. Kohl’s saw a blistering January same-store sales rise of 13.3% and Macy’s solid fourth-quarter results showed it grew same-store sales 3.9% (and 11.7% in January). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where these sales are coming from… J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP)! Johnson has since backpedaled on his pricing stance, but I feel it could be too little, too late.

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