Ahead of the Bell: J.C. Penney's spring fall

J.C. Penney falls in premarket trading as 1st-quarter loss widens, revenue declines

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of J.C. Penney fell in premarket trading Friday, the morning after it reported an even wider loss than analysts' already-dismal estimates.

Late Thursday the department store operator reported an adjusted loss of $1.31 per share on revenue of $2.63 billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected a loss of $1.06 per share on revenue of $2.65 billion.

The results show that J.C. Penney Co. Inc. is still reeling from the turnaround plan orchestrated by its former CEO Ron Johnson, who was ousted last month after less than a year and a half on the job.

The plan included getting rid of coupons and most sales in favor of everyday low prices, bringing in hip brands like Joe Fresh and remaking outdated stores. But the changes that were meant to attract younger, wealthier shoppers, wound up turning off its loyal middle-income, middle-age customers who favor sales and basic merchandise like loose-fitting khakis.

Penney last month rehired Johnson's predecessor, Mike Ullman, who is adding back sales and bringing back basics. The company also announced last month that Goldman Sachs will provide $1.75 billion in financing, a move that eases worries that Penney could run out of cash this year.

Deborah Weinswig of Citi Investment Research said in a client note that she's encouraged by Ullman's strategic plan, which includes bringing back certain private-label brands like St. John's Bay. The analyst said that while traffic dropped 6 percent in the quarter, it was an improvement from the fourth quarter's 17 percent traffic decline.

Weinswig maintained a "Neutral" rating and increase Penney's price target to $20 from $15.

Penney does not comment on analyst reports. The company's stock fell 57 cents, or 3 percent, to $18.22 before the market open.

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