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J.C. Penney's stock just fell below $1

Brian Sozzi

You can’t even buy a pair of underwear at J.C. Penney (JCP) for $1. But, for $0.93 you can now become a part owner in the struggling department store.

J.C. Penney’s stock crashed below $1 on Thursday, falling as much as 7.7% to an intraday low of $0.93. At its current trading level of about $0.94, J.C. Penney’s stock has the unwelcome distinction as being the lowest ever for the retailer.

With J.C. Penney’s earnings report this week raising more questions than giving answers, it’s no surprise investors are dumping and heading for higher ground.

J.C. Penney’s outlook is bleak

Most sources Yahoo Finance talked with about J.C. Penney this week have all voiced a similar concern — the company may have zero chance of survival even under relatively new and well-regarded CEO Jill Soltau. The logic is simple. J.C. Penney has let its customers down for so long amid frequent management turnover that they may never return in the crowds needed to sustain the indebted retailer’s operations.

Moreover, J.C. Penney’s weak financial state has prevented critical investments in the technology systems, people and marketing, while others such as Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT) have made to remain competitive with digital retailers like Amazon (AMZN).

One veteran retail source reminded Yahoo Finance of the sad situations at Sears, Circuit City, and RadioShack. These retailers quickly saw their share prices spin out of control — along with vendor support — on fears of going out of business.

They all eventually died (Sears is still open in some form, but it’s pretty much dead).

That could be starting to play out at J.C. Penney, one source explained.

The fresh selling wave in the stock is certainly justified based on the company’s start to 2019.

J.C. Penney enters the important summer and back-to-school selling months with little to no sales or profit momentum. J.C. Penney’s first quarter same-store sales plunged 5.5%, worse than the year ago marginal increase of 0.2%. The company said apparel for women, men and children were its top-performing categories. But, apparently the categories weren’t strong enough to drive same-store sales growth, a profit or free cash flow.

The sales results were far worse than competitors Kohl’s (KSS), Macy’s (M) and Target.

The company lost a staggering $154 million in the quarter. Free cash flow was an outflow of $268 million compared to a $421 million outflow a year ago. Consistent with recent earnings calls under Soltau, J.C. Penney highlighted weakness in appliances and furniture as primary reasons for the sales pressure. The company is exiting both categories in a bid to improve sales productivity.

J.C. Penney is also undergoing extensive research into who its customers are and what they expect to see from the retailer. Hence, there are many departments on the sales floor not performing up to snuff. The liquidation of slow selling apparel inventory has subsequently weighed on sales and profits.

On a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Soltau asked for more patience. She acknowledged her turnaround plan is not yet ready for “prime time.” Her comments on there being no quick fix to turning the company around also likely didn’t sit well with the investment community.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-host of ‘The First Trade’ at Yahoo Finance. Follow Brian Sozzi him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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