J.C. Penney Co Inc warned that it expects consumer spending to stay weak and forecast second-quarter and full year results below Wall Street's expectations, sending its shares down 3.8 percent before markets opened.

The forecast came even as the department store operator's first-quarter profit was in line with analysts' expectations.

Penney is one of many department store retailers facing steep sales declines in recent months as shoppers back off from spending on non-essential items in the recession. Such consumer thrift has hurt the department store sector.

The mid-priced chain, which has been trimming inventories and offering fewer discounts to drive profitability, has tried to emphasize affordable prices and trendy items to entice cash-strapped shoppers.

But 2009 would remain rough, Penney warned.

We expect consumer spending and mall traffic to remain weak, which will be particularly evident against tough comparisons in the second quarter, Chief Executive Myron Mike Ullman said in a statement on Friday.

Earlier this week, rival Macy's Inc posted a 9.5 percent drop in first-quarter sales and stuck to its forecast for sales to fall for the full year.

Penney's net profit was $25 million, or 11 cents per share, in the fiscal first quarter that ended May 2, compared with a profit of $120 million, or 54 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts expected a profit of 11 cents per share, on average, according to Reuters Estimates.

Sales fell 5.9 percent to $3.88 billion, while sales at stores open at least one year fell 7.5 percent.

For the second quarter, Penney forecast total sales to fall 7 percent to 10 percent, and a loss of 15 cents to 25 cents per share. Analysts expect a loss of 9 cents per share.

For the year, Penney expects a per-share profit of 50 cents to 65 cents, and same-store sales to fall about 9 percent.

Analysts expect a profit of 75 cents per share.

Penney shares were down to $25.65 from Thursday's close of $26.65 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman; Editing by Derek Caney, Dave Zimmerman)