It's been a challenging few years for J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP). But while many analysts and commentators have previously predicted its downfall, the retailer wants customers and investors to know that it's not going away anytime soon. Investors reading over J.C. Penney's most recent earnings press release and listening to the conference call management held with analysts could take heart in these five critical points.
1. Going on the offensive
Four years ago, J.C. Penney made a near-fatal mistake. Hoping to revitalize the brand, it hired former Apple executive Ron Johnson to breathe new life into the then-floundering retailer. But far from doing so, Johnson nearly ran the company into the ground by, among other things, abandoning its discount-based sales model and thereby alienating its core customers.
Since Johnson's unceremonious departure two years ago, it's been struggling to deal with the damage. According to current CEO Mike Ullman, the company is now ready to once again go on the offensive. "This year, we are switching gears from defense to offense," he said on J.C. Penney's latest conference call. "We're focused on taking back market share and restoring the profitability of our business."
2. J.C. Penney is growing again
Offense or not, there's no question that J.C. Penney still has a long way to go before it's fully recovered from Johnson's failed rebranding attempt. Nowhere is this more obvious than the company's revenue. Prior to Johnson's stint as CEO, J.C. Penney generated between $17 billion and $18 billion in annual revenue. Since then, the figure has dropped to a mere $12 billion.
But the good news is that things are starting to turn around. Revenue on a trailing-12-month basis has increased for two consecutive quarters. And in the three months ended May 2, its same-store sales were up by 3.4% compared to the same quarter last year. It's worth pointing out, moreover, that this was on top of a 7.4% gain in the year-ago period.
3. It's exploring multiple growth opportunities
Going along with J.C. Penney's strategy of taking the offense, it's currently pursuing multiple strategies designed to boost sales. Among other things, it's furthering its relationship with Sephora by opening more in-store boutiques in smaller-market stores. It's doubling down on home furnishings, a "bright spot" for the company according to Ullman. And it's inked new merchandising deals with the likes of Epicurious and Eva Longoria.
4. Almost all metrics are headed in the right direction
As evidence of J.C. Penney's progress, virtually all of the main metrics used to analyze retail stores moved in the right direction last quarter. Top-line sales were up by 2%, improving to $2.9 billion in the fiscal first quarter versus $2.8 billion in the year-ago period. Gross margin advanced from a year ago by 330 basis points to 36.4%. And its net loss for the quarter narrowed considerably. In the three months ended May 2, it lost $167 million, or roughly half the $352 million loss in the fiscal first quarter of 2014.
5. The updated outlook is better than expected
Along these same lines, according to J.C. Penney's official earnings release, the company expects all of these improvements to continue for the remainder of 2015.
"Our exceptional customer experience, when combined with our strength in private brands, national brands and points of differentiation like Sephora inside JCPenney and the Disney Collection, give us confidence in our ability to earn customer loyalty and deliver on our long term goals," said president and CEO-designee Marvin Ellison. "In fact, based on our results to date, including a strong Easter and Mother's Day, we feel confident in raising our 2015 expectations for sales, gross margin and SG&A."
It now expects comparable-store sales to increase 4% to 5% versus its previous projection of 3% to 5%. It expects gross margin to improve by 100 to 150 basis points, up from 50 to 100 basis points previously. And it anticipates overhead expense to decrease by $100 million, up from $50 to $100 million previously.
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John Maxfield has no position in any stocks mentioned.