JCPenney Company, Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Myron Ullman on Thursday continued to describe the consumer climate as being very difficult, in line with his previous statements that he expected consumer spending to remain weak for the remainder of 2009.

Ullman, whose firm reported a break even fourth fiscal quarter today and upgraded its full year earnings expectations, is a facing a consumer spending environment which he noted in February had experienced a “sharp deterioration” over the course of 2008.

To withstand the economic conditions, he noted at the time that throughout 2008, the company had moved to “significantly reduce” the department store’s inventory levels and had focused on controlling operating expenses.

In May of this year, he said the company's gross margins had improved as a result, in part of its aligment of inventory levels to current sales trends.

The impact of the current economic crisis was sudden for JCPenney and other retailers.

When the downturn had its first impact on the company’s results in September and October of 2007 Ullman said the company was “disappointed to see sales weaken dramatically” citing in part a “challenging macroeconomic environment” for consumers from weak housing, mortgage and credit markets.