And You Thought J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (JCP) Was Scary: The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (BONT), Macy’s, Inc (M)

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There are few department store retailers who are doing as badly as J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP), but one that comes close is The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT), which bears some scary similarities to J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP) besides stock performance. J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP) is down over 30% in less than a week, and The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT) is off from a high of $14.99 a few months ago to be trading in the high ten’s to low elevens, down between 25%-30%. The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT) may be as horrific as an investment as J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP).

J.C. Penney Company Inc. (NYSE:JCP)

A Turnaround CEO

Just as J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP) brought in CEO Ron Johnson in hopes of turning around the musty chain, so too did The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT) bring in Brendan L. Hoffman. Hoffman has been credited with reviving a moribund Lord & Taylor as CEO. Before that he was CEO of Neiman-Marcus Direct, their e-commerce division. Like Ron Johnson having great success at Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Hoffman did very well at Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus.

Hoffman started on Feb. 7 of last year, so he’s had a similar amount of time at the The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT) helm (Johnson started at JCP on Nov. 1, 2011). He presides over 27,000 employees who work at the chain’s 271 stores. Stores under its umbrella include Bon Ton, Elder-Beerman, Younkers, Parisian, Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner’s, Herberger’s, and Boston Store.

Both CEOs came on gangbusters, but the similarities end there. While Johnson went with everyday low prices and cut back on coupons and sales, Hoffman amped up sales and coupons. Hoffman’s The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT) soared and is still up 63% over the last year, while Johnson’s JCP dived 61%. However, both stocks have fallen far from their all time highs to make for some really ugly charts, especially when compared with competitor Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE:M).

The Ugly Numbers

The numbers are almost uglier than the chart. Both companies have big debt; The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT) with $1.02 billion to total cash of $8 million and JC Penney (NYSE:JCP) with $2.98 billion in debt to total cash of $930 million. Proportionally, Bon-Ton’s debtload is much higher.

Then there is the negative EPS of -$0.97 for Bon-Ton and -$4.49 for JC Penney. The returns on equity (-27.43% for JC Penney and -27.18% for Bon-Ton) are negative, as are the operating and profit margins for both. JC Penney reported a Q4 loss of $552 million for a total loss for 2012 of $985 million that cratered the stock over the last week. This news was way worse than expected.

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