J.C. Penney may be looking for capital
The troubled department-store chain may be seeking as much as $1 billion in cash to stay afloat. One option: Sell part of the company to an investor.
The answer appears to be one year, assuming the company can raise as much as $1 billion in new capital. The Wall Street Journal said late Thursday that the retailer has hired investment bankers at the Blackstone Group for advice on how to stabilize its dwindling cash resources.
The Journal said bond analysts believe that, under current conditions, the company has perhaps a year before its cash runs out. That puts more pressure on CEO Myron Ullman to cut costs, look for new investors and lure shoppers back into Penney stores.
Johnson was ousted -- and replaced by his predecessor -- after the failure of a costly and aggressive overhaul that involved rebuilding its 1,100 stores as collections of boutiques. Johnson also sharply cut back the coupons and artificial discounts that long-time customers loved.
Shoppers didn't buy into the plan. Penney sales fell 25% in the 2012-2013 fiscal year to $12.99 billion. The company lost $4.40 a share for the year after a loss of 70 cents in the prior year. Sales fell 28.4% in the fiscal fourth quarter to $3.88 billion.The shares closed up 77 cents to $14.86 on Thursday -- the third-best percentage gain among stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX). The shares, however, are down nearly 25% this year after falling 43.9% in 2011.
The shrinking cash reserves make Ullman's job more challenging. Hundreds of Penney stores are still being renovated under Johnson's plan. It's not clear if the work can be stopped or what it will take to make the stores ready for shoppers, UBS analyst Michael Binetti told The Journal.
Penney's cash balance fell to $930 million as of Feb. 2, down from $1.5 billion a year earlier. In November, Penney had said it aimed to end the year with $1 billion in cash. The total would have looked worse except Penney shifted $85 million in payments to vendors from the fourth quarter into the first week of the new quarter, The Journal said.
The company has access to a $1.85 billion line of credit that it had yet to draw upon as of last month. But drawing down the credit line could send a negative signal to investors that the company is running out of money, analysts said.
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