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Sears returns to profit, J.C. Penney bombs in record stock slide

Quarterly or Semiannual Financial StatementsServices and ShoppingSearsJC Penney Company Inc.BusinessPricesKmart

Sears Holding Co. may be back from the brink, once again earning a profit in its first quarter. J.C. Penney, however, has been less blessed as consumers and investors roundly trounced its turnaround effort this week.

On Thursday, Sears said it earned $189 million, or $1.78 per share in the quarter ended April 28, after losing $170 million, or $1.58 per share, during the same period a year earlier.

Much of the gain came selling off some of its stores – which the struggling retail company announced in December after a disappointing holiday slump.

Sears, which owns its namesake brand as well as Kmart and Lands' End, has attempted to revitalize itself after four years of sales declines. Revenue is still hurting – down 3% in the first quarter to $9.3 billion. Weak demand for consumer electronics pushed same-store sales in the U.S. down 1.6% for both Sears and Kmart.

To continue shedding excess weight, Sears said Thursday that it will shrink its 95% stake in Sears Canada down to 51% this year. The company’s stock was up nearly 9%, or $4.37, to $55.24 a share in midday trading in New York.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. may need to take similar steps soon after a dismal first-quarter earnings report sent its stock plummeting 20% Wednesday in its deepest-ever plunge.

On Tuesday, that struggling retailer said it would stop paying a 20-cent-per-share quarter dividend in a bid to save $175 million. On top of that, it suffered a $163-million loss, or 75 cents a share, in the period that ended April 28.

During the same period a year earlier, it had earned $64 million, or 28 cents a share. Its revenue was down 20% to $3.1 billion; same-store sales slid nearly 19%.

It looks like J.C. Penney’s much-ballyhooed revamp – which involved swapping out its ongoing sales cycles for year-round low prices – is getting the cold shoulder from shoppers. It’s not a good sign for new chief executive and Apple alum Ron Johnson, who pushed hard for the initiative when it was launched earlier this year.

The company’s stock was recovering a bit Thursday, up 1.9%, or 50 cents, to $27.25 a share midday. But it’s still down more than 18% from Tuesday’s $33.32 close, before the earnings results were announced.

“Sales and profitability have been tougher than anticipated during the first 13 weeks, but the transformation is ahead of schedule,” Johnson said in a statement earlier this week. “While we have work to do to educate the customer on our pricing strategy and to drive more traffic to our stores, we are confident in our vision to become America's favorite store.”

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