Retailers have a lot of wind in their sails these days, but it’s hard to tell when you look at J.C. Penney’s (jcp, -12.54%) first-quarter results.
The discount department store chain on Thursday said that comparable sales, a metric that strips out the impact of the 141 stores it closed last year, rose a meager 0.2% in the quarter, with the company blaming cold weather and the late arrival of spring for impeding clothing sales.
But the growth was well below the 2.1% Wall Street was expecting, according to Consensus Metrix, and is certainly far from the strong numbers reported earlier this week by Macy’s (m, +2.02%) for the quarter. Penney’s results were all the more disappointing given the ongoing sales declines at Sears, with which it anchors hundreds of malls.
Despite the weak first quarter, Penney stuck to its full year forecast for comparable sales to range from unchanged to up 2%. But it did cut its profit forecast, unnerving Wall Street and sending shares down almost 15% in premarket.
Penney has been trying to get back on track for years, launching new apparel brands for the plus-size market and going after Sears’ appliance business. And it continues to open popular Sephora beauty boutiques in its stores. But the retailer seems at best to be treading water, an insufficient performance in what is a strong consumer spending environment.
“Overall, we believe that our strategies are beginning to take hold, as we are seeing improvement in a number of areas,” CEO Marvin Ellison said in a statement. But that is clearly not enough at this point.
Total sales in the quarter ended May 5 fell 4.3 % to $2.58 billion from a year earlier, due to the store closings last year, while its adjusted net loss was $69 million, or 22 cents per share, compared to a profit of $2 million, or $0.01 per share, for the first quarter last year. The unsold merchandise suggests Penney’s margins will take a hit since it is likely to have to sell much of that clothing at deep discounts.