J.C. Penney's (JCP) Future Remains Uncertain As Stock Price Volatile On New Stock Offering

on September 28 2013 10:46 AM
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Is the sun setting on J.C. Penney? REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The graph showing J.C. Penney Company Inc.’s (NYSE:JCP) stock price on Thursday dipped and peaked like a heart monitor mid-cardiac arrest.

Bruised from months of blistering criticism about its future – the financial press had all but eulogized the struggling department store – the company’s woes were finally, for the most part,  relegated from newspapers’ B1 to page three.

But as CNBC reporter Scott Wapner told the camera that CEO Myron Ullman was assuring investors that the company’s cash reserves were enough to carry it through the year, the stock price fluttered around the $10 mark on screen.

“What I can tell you is that the CEO of the company, Mike Ullman, is apparently more confident about the state of the company’s finances than the Street has definitely been,” Wapner told viewers from the studio. “In fact, he’s telling investors, at least some of them, that the company will not need to raise capital anytime soon.”

Supposedly, Ullman was easing agitated shareholders.

In a press release, the company said it was “pleased with its progress thus far in the company’s turnaround efforts and the traction its initiatives are starting to achieve.” It touted the store’s uptick in online sales.

A day before, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) published a research note encouraging investors to bet on J.C. Penney’s demise by buying credit-default swaps, which work like insurance bonds and pay out when a company defaults.

But later on Thursday, Wapner was proven wrong.

J.C. Penney issued a press release announcing it would start selling 84 million shares of common stock to raise some money. The underwriter for the public offering? Goldman Sachs.

“I think they were misquoted on CNBC,” Paul Swinand, an analyst at Morningstar, told International Business Times. “CNBC reported that somebody had been in this meeting with Ullman and the person reported that Ullman said in the meeting that they didn’t need to raise equity. And then it turns around by the end of the day.”

Before opening bell on Friday, analysts were abuzz on Twitter, certain the stock would plummet.

And it did. Shares in the Plano, Texas, department store fell nearly 14 percent to $8.99 by 4 p.m. while traders and analysts bet each other on Twitter over whether it would sink 20 percent before the trading floor closed. Some replied with photos of decrepit zombies reaching out arms of rotten flesh in agony.

J. P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) lowered its target price for the company’s stock to $8 from $13. Citi and UBS took it a step further, both sinking the price to $7.

So why subject itself to such a Wall Street beat down? J.C. Penney needs cash to pay off debt.

To get a $2.25 billion credit line, the company agreed to pay outstanding balances by April 4, 2014, according to a note last month from Brian Sozzi, the CEO and chief equities strategist of Belus Capital Advisors.

“The company will need a historic holiday season and start to 2014 to fund the payment of borrowing with cash on hand,” he wrote.

J.C. Penney’s are difficult tea leaves to read.

“Hopefully they don’t burn through too much of it in the next two quarters,” Swinand said of the fresh cash.

For weeks, activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman was pressuring the board to replace Ullman. When he failed to get his way by late August, he sold his entire stake.

But, whether Ackman’s advice was worth heeding, Ullman is there to stay – for now.

“Even if Ackman was right that Ullman’s not the right guy, you can’t change quarterbacks while the play is already running,” Swinand said. “It’s fourth down and the ball’s already been snapped. You can’t substitute.”

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