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J.C. Penney Stock Price Tanks on News of Hedge Fund Sale

Paul Ausick

On Wednesday the head of hedge fund Hayman Capital Management, Kyle Bass, pointed to General Motors Co. (GM) as a stock with nearly 40% upside to its current price. That makes today’s report that the fund has sold all its remaining stake in J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (JCP) all the more devastating to the company’s turnaround hopes.

Hayman held a 5.2% stake in J.C. Penney (about 11.4 million shares) as recently as September. Then J.C. Penney announced a secondary offering of 84 million shares and Bass sold about half his stake in the company. Today Bass said he had sold the rest of his shares. He continues to hold J.C. Penney debt, however.

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J.C. Penney's woes are well-known by now and Bass did not waste any time admitting that perhaps he'd made a mistake. He told Bloomberg TV, "We learned a lesson in perception changing quickly."

No kidding. When J.C. Penney retained Myron Ullman as its permanent CEO and a promise to return to the bad old days before former CEO Ron Johnson tried to reinvent the venerable retailer, investors believed that a plan that had failed before would somehow work if the store tried it again. Bass apparently was among those believers.

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But as losses mounted and even good news, like November same-store sales rising 10%, needed to be examined carefully. A 10% gain compared with a year-ago loss of 25% in same-store sales is hardly an occasion for delirious celebration. How steeply did J.C. Penney have to discount its merchandise to make those sales? We won't know that until the company reports fourth quarter earnings next February 24.

Retailers in general did not have a terrificly successful November, even given the media blanketing of Black Friday mayhem. Research firm Retail Metrics was looking for an overall same-store sales gain of 3% for November and now figures that the final number is 1.9% growth. Looking for more growth in the next few weeks is likely to be a fool's errand.

J.C. Penney shares were trading down about 8% in the late afternoon on Thursday at $8.91 in a 52-week range of $6.24 to $23.10.

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