By  on January 30, 2014

Investors continued to back away from shares of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. Thursday, sending them to a new 52-week low on heavy volume.

Shares closed down 52 cents, or 8.3 percent, at $5.77 after reaching their nadir for the past year, $5.69, in the final hour of trading. Volume was over 55.8 million shares, more than 75 percent above average for the last 90 days. Shares have lost 36.9 percent of their value since the end of 2013, and 21.7 percent since the company issued a statement on Jan. 8 saying it was “pleased” with its holiday performance without providing specific numbers. Even since disclosing plans on Jan. 15 to close 33 underperforming stores, at a cost of 2,000 jobs, shares have contracted 17.7 percent.

The downward spiral Thursday, when the S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group had its best day of the year with a 1.6 percent increase to 890.84, underscored the retailer’s struggles. Now in the final days of what’s considered a critical fourth quarter, the market has little transparency about sales trends but keen awareness of high debt — $4.85 billion in long-term debt at the end of the third quarter, up from $2.77 billion a year earlier. The firm is attempting a delicate balancing act with pricing as it struggles to build margins while at the same time drawing traffic in a market still teeming with promotions.

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