Personally speaking, J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) is a painful lesson in market timing: You can have the right argument and still lose the debate. Several years ago, I bought put options against the retailer, assuming that the JCP stock price would fall dramatically. Instead, Wall Street bought into its pleas for additional time to right the ship.
For quite some time, JCPenney stock proved doubters wrong. When shares briefly plunged below $5 in early 2014, I thought the writing was on the wall. Instead, my hopes for “negative profits” were dashed when the retailer kept pumping out its brilliant PR game. JCP was reinventing itself, overhauling its stores and making divestures in unproductive assets and workers. That message was enough to satisfy speculative investors.
However, common logic tells us that you can’t cut your way to prosperity. At some point, you must have a real plan to survive and thrive in the era of Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). My thesis before was that the department store lacked any viable strategy. I was wrong in the timing, but with the JCP stock price losing almost 60% year-to-date, reality is catching up.
Of course, I can still be wrong, but in my defense, I don’t think I am. Analysts can sometimes get cute with the fundamentals and make seemingly brilliant contrarian calls. But if the underlying investment isn’t sound, the unaddressed vulnerabilities usually come back to haunt you. I believe this is exactly what’s happening to the JCPenney stock price.
Sometimes, it’s better to call a spade a spade. Here are three reasons why JCP stock is likely due for more pain.
Too Much Competition
People who insist on being Penney bulls need to consider the competition. Obviously, an excessive amount of players exist in the sector, which is problematic from a differentiation point-of-view. But beyond that, we should be aware that aside from Best Buy Co Inc (NYSE:BBY), few have found an answer for Amazon’s extreme dominance.
Worryingly, premium department stores Macy’s Inc (NYSE:M), Nordstrom, Inc. (NYSE:JWN), and Dillard’s, Inc. (NYSE:DDS) are all trading in negative territory this year. Although the JCP stock price is the most negatively impacted, not much sector confidence remains. Macy’s is awful at nearly 44% down YTD, but Nordstrom and Dilliard’s are hardly great at a 13.3% average loss.
Obviously, moving into the premium sector is out of the question. Off-season discount retailers, like Ross Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROST) and TJX Companies Inc (NYSE:TJX) fare better than traditional department stores. However, the low-cost sector isn’t a panacea, and competition would be fierce. In other words, JCPenney stock doesn’t have opportunities to steal market share easily.
Poor Industry Fundamentals
Ugly financials back the JCP stock price. That’s just the nature of this beast. So in order to have a reasonable shot at recovery, the company needs favorable industry and consumer tailwinds. Unfortunately, I don’t think department stores are going to be great again anytime soon.
For now, the good news is that both unemployment and wage growth are trending positively. The bad news is that inflation and other economic factors are driving up prices for all consumer goods. At the present moment, wage growth is slightly edging out rising consumer prices. But based on the sharply declining U.S. dollar index, inflation could potentially eat up wage growth.
I’ve mentioned this statistic frequently: U.S. consumer confidence is declining under President Trump’s administration. Since he took office, the consumer sentiment index is down nearly 3.5%. Simply put, shoppers aren’t shopping. Since JCP is largely competing on volume, that sentiment slip-up spells trouble for the JCPenney stock price.
The Charts are Screaming “Timbeeer!”
Some are technical folks, while others are not. I’m not here to spark a debate between the technical and fundamental approach. Rather, I’d like to propose that some market trends are so plainly obvious that everyone has the same interpretation. At the current juncture, this description perfectly explains the JCPenney stock price.
From August 2016, shares have charted an acute slide, punctuated briefly by speculative buying activities. Other than those moments of insanity, JCP stock is doing what its fundamentals suggest it should do, fall. As an exclamation mark, the last time shares breached its 200 day moving average was the prior year’s November.
Contrarians may say this is an opportune time to pick up JCPenney stock. I ask, why? Brick-and-mortar retail is one of the ugliest sectors. It faces challenges both from within (e-commerce) and from outside (poor consumer economics).
Like I said, you have to call a spade a spade.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.