There is a growing school of thought that J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (JCP) has started to walk out of the deep woods of retail oblivion in which it has lived for the better part of three years. Several analysts say they have data that show sales have picked up. J.C. Penney management has said as much as well. However, J.C. Penney and its brand are not strong enough to survive the onslaught of efforts by its more healthy competitors to drive impressive holiday sales.
The confidence in J.C. Penney pushed its shares 9% higher on Friday, after very obscure research firm ITG Research raised its expectations for the retailer's third-quarter sales. It is a sign of how desperate shareholders are. ITG's opinions mean as little as the firm does in the realm of reasonable forecasts.
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The array of efforts by the largest retailers are the primary reason J.C. Penney does not stand a chance. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) has moved up many of its holiday promotions so that discounts are available now instead of at Thanksgiving. It leads an army of retailers that offer free shipping for customers who agree to pick up their orders at stores.
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Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) has been the most formidable enemy of bricks-and-mortar stores for more than a decade. It has become more clever each year in terms of its ability to capture the attention of consumers. Its latest tactics include the introduction of its Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, which it promotes as $120 less than the new Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPad Air. It has joined other retailers as it starts marketing Black Friday specials nearly a month before the day itself.
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J.C. Penney also has to contend with desperate retailers that need a holiday success as much as it does. This includes, in particular, the Sears and Kmart divisions of Sears Holdings Inc. (SHLD), a company in nearly as much trouble as J.C. Penney is.
Even if J.C. Penney did slightly better than expected in the third quarter, it will be slaughtered in the fourth.