J.C. Penney promises big growth

J.C. Penney Co. officials reaffirmed their outlook for 2005 earnings and said they plan to become among the most profitable retailers within four years, the Associated Press reports.

Chief financial Officer Bob Cavanaugh told analysts Wednesday that company officials believe Penney will earn 48 to 51 cents per share for the February-April quarter and $2.89 to $3.01 per share for the year, the AP reports.

Same-store sales, a key measure for retailers, will rise by low single digits in the first quarter, Cavanaugh reportedly said.

To attract customers, stores will keep shelves replenished, post pricing that doesn’t use percentages, display bilingual signs, and have more sales clerks, officials reportedly said.

There are also opportunities to boost Penney’s housewares offerings and potential for growth in decorating personality Chris Madden’s furniture line, said Penney’s president Ken Hicks.

The company will move from the turnaround philosophy of the last five years to a growth-driven strategy, Cavanaugh reportedly said.

Penney’s reportedly plans to open 19 new stores this year at a cost of $270 million and to spend $200 million upgrading about 50 existing stores.

Myron Ullman, who became CEO and chairman in December, said the company would consider converting competitors’ stores to Penney locations. The chain has already opened in four former Kmarts and two former Mervyn’s stores and has bought two sites from Lord & Taylor’s.

Ullman said stores being closed by rivals could help Penney grow in California and Boston.

The company’s cash will drop from $4.7 billion to an estimated $2.5 billion by the end of this year, mostly to pay down debt, Cavanaugh said.

Penney has been the subject of speculation that it could be for sale, but officials wouldn’t confirm or deny the rumors.

Ullman said there were no conversations within the last week with Federated Department Stores Inc., which has proposed a $11 billion purchase of May Department Stores Co.

Penney’s goal is shooting for operating profit of 9% to 9.5% by 2009, compared to last year’s 7.1%. The company forecast 7.6% operating profit this year.