J.C. Penney sales fall short, net loss doubles; shares sink 10%

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(Reuters) – Same-store sales fell more than expected at J.C. Penney Co Inc in the first quarter and its net loss nearly doubled, after the retailer exited its appliance and in-store furniture businesses, sending shares down 8% in premarket trading on Tuesday.

J.C. Penney sales fall short, net loss doubles; shares sink 10%

A J.C. Penney Company Inc. store is pictured at a mall in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 17, 2018. Picture taken November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Suzanne Barlyn

The retailer, which earlier this year said it would stop selling major appliances like refrigerators and washing machines, said that move cut comparable sales by 20 basis points.

Chief Executive Jill Soltau, on an earnings conference call, warned investors that Penney would likely take a further hit if U.S. President Donald Trump imposed additional tariffs on another $300 billion worth of imports from China.

“We do anticipate a more meaningful impact on both our private and national brands if the potential fourth tranche of tariffs does go into effect,” said Soltau.

Shares were down nearly 8% at $1.06 in premarket trading.

Washington’s escalation of a 10-month trade war with Beijing by raising levies on $200 billion of Chinese goods had a minimal impact on the business, Soltau said.

The executive reassured investors the company has worked hard “for the better part of the last several years” to reduce reliance on Chinese suppliers and that it would do what it could to reduce any consequential impact.

Some analysts expressed concern about the company’s future prospects.

“Our main concern is not that CEO Jill Soltau will fail to take action nor that she will make the right decisions, but that the company will run out of time and capital to make the necessary changes,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, in an analyst note.

“JC Penney is a very weak operator in one of the toughest sectors of a highly competitive retail market in an era of more subdued demand from highly fickle consumers.”

Last week, Macy’s Inc and Walmart Inc delivered a similar warning, alerting investors that prices for shoppers would rise due to higher tariffs on goods from China.

One of the oldest names in American retail, J.C. Penney has struggled to excite customers with its mid-priced clothing and has steadily lost out to fast-fashion brands and online shopping.

Penney has tried to strengthen its apparel business to compete with online retailers like Amazon.com Inc and off-price retailers like TJX Cos Inc.

The Plano, Texas-based company has shut hundreds of stores over the years and revamped its locations to boost sales and revive profits.

Sales at stores open for at least 12 months fell 5.5% in the first quarter, its sixth straight quarterly drop. Analysts, on average, had expected a 4.21% fall, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The company’s net loss nearly doubled to $154 million, or 48 cents per share, in the three months ended May 4.

Excluding one-time items, the company lost 46 cents a share, more than the 38-cent loss analysts had expected.

Total revenue decreased 4.3% to $2.56 billion, in line with the average analyst estimate.

The company, which repeated its previously issued financial forecast for the year, said it hired Shawn Gensch as its chief customer officer. Gensch, hailing from Sprouts Farmers Market Inc, will oversee marketing strategies relating to areas including digital, advertising and customer research.

Also on Tuesday, Kohl’s Corp slashed its full-year profit forecast after the retailer missed Wall Street estimates for quarterly same-store sales and profit, sending its shares down over 10% in premarket trading.

Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Uday Sampath in Bengaluru and Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Bernadette Baum