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JCPenney CEO Johnson Gets Another Steep Selloff

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JCPenney's (JCP) stock was having one of the steepest single-day drops in its history Thursday, and at the current level, it's in line for its third-worst session going back to at least November 1984.

That's as far into the past as FactSet data go, and it would mean that CEO Ron Johnson has been in office during two of the three biggest dives ever witnessed for the retailer's shares. The latest selloff comes only hours after the company reported horrible sales numbers for its fourth quarter, continuing a series of slumping results. If this area holds, he'll have overseen four of the nine grimmest sessions of all time.

So far, the most pronounced pullback for JCPenney was May 16, 2012 -- one of the bleak Johnson days -- when the shares sank 19.7% by the close. For now, they're dropping 15.6% to $17.85. That's actually quite a step up from the low, at which point the stock hit $16.57, a plunge of 21.7% from the previous finish. Roughly an hour into the trading day, volume already was more than double the average for a normal full session.

JCPenney Stock Chart for Worst Days

Source: FactSet

Johnson was named chief of the Plano, Texas, department store chain in June 2011, and he formally started the job in November of that year. Initially, his arrival from Apple (AAPL), where he engineered a successful retail buildout at the iPhone maker, was welcomed by investors.

For the first few months, the stock did make its way higher -- the course was uneven but JCPenney went from right at $30 prior to Johnson being picked to above $42 eight months later in February 2012. Since then, however, the stock has been halved.

JCPenney Stock Chart

In Johnson's defense, he can note that he was in charge on JCPenney's best day recorded, on Jan. 26, 2012, when the shares surged 18.8%. That was right when he was announcing his plans to bring a revolution to the century-old, middle American chain with new pricing plans, updated ads and fresh store designs.

From The New York Times, here's what he said at the time about his thinking: "You have to stay tuned. I’ve been here 90 days -- dazzling technology takes time. Changing the merchandise takes time. Getting new partners to carry in-store takes time. And we have a very clear vision for exactly what will happen."

This clearly wasn't that clear vision. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that, thus far, the revolution has been led by core shoppers, who have shown next to no interest in the urbane approach that aims to remake the Penney they know.

Have you been in the new Penney stores? What's your take on the company's makeover?