JCPENNEY

A pedestrian walks outside a J.C. Penney store at Westfield mall in Culver City, Calif., on Nov. 16, 2018.

J.C. Penney Co. got some welcome breathing room after signaling it’s making the hard choices now that could position it for a promised turnaround. The question is how much longer shareholders are willing to wait.

“The next six months will be critical,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “If trading can be stabilized and if JCP pulls some big initiatives out of its hat, there may be a chance. If not, we believe it will be a clear signal that the end of the runway is fast approaching.”

The company, which is at risk of delisting as its share price hovers below $1 per share, has been making tangible changes under its Chief Executive Officer Jill Soltau, who took the helm in October. Long lamenting its over-supply of product, J.C. Penney trimmed its inventory by 12.5% in the latest quarter and reduced its markdowns, which had been hurting sales.

Under Soltau, the company has also exited the major appliance business and moved its furniture sales online only. J.C. Penney has renovated its fitting rooms and added a new check-out process aimed at re-igniting growth and attracting new traffic. On Thursday, it said it’s wading into the resale market, announcing a tie-up with thredUP, an online consignment store. This comes a day after Macy’s Inc. announced a partnership with the same company.

“We are not simply running a business — we are rebuilding a business,” Soltau said. “While we still have work to do on our topline, I strongly believe that growing sales in an unprofitable way is simply not an option.”

Shareholders seem appeased. The retailer’s shares surged as much as 15%, before paring gains. Shares were up 5.1% to 60 cents as of 11:07 a.m. in New York.

“She’s following her plan,” Poonam Goyal, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said.

But plans won’t keep them satisfied forever — at some point investors will demand results. Same-store sales, a closely watched metric in retail, fell 9% in the latest quarter. That’s worse than analysts’ expectations for a drop of 5.3%, according to Consensus Metrix.

“This all sounds great, but with the environment that we’re in today, is the customer still preferring to shop at a big department store? How is she going to drive traffic? At some point, topline is going to become an issue,” Goyal said.

Other retailers, like Walmart, have been able to pull off sales gains. Walmart’s results, along with economic data released Thursday that showed stronger-than-expected U.S. retail sales in July, helped calm fears that the country is headed into recession, with equity indexes rebounding from Wednesday’s rout. But department stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penney are still struggling.

That’s because competition is ramping up from online rivals like Amazon.com and popular discount retailers like TJX Cos., which owns Marshalls and TJ Maxx. They’re also getting squeezed as the Trump administration ratchets up tariffs on Chinese goods. A levy on department-store staples like handbags already went into effect, with the vast majority of other products slated for hikes later this year, even after a partial reprieve.

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