Beaten-down retail stocks got a lift on Wall Street, led by one of the sector's most troubled retailers, J.C. Penney.
J.C. Penney soared early and closed up $1.51 to $7.47 Thursday in heavy trading. The 25.4% gain was the largest among companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange, coming after Penney posted better fourth-quarter results than consensus estimates. CEO Mike Ullman says the current quarter is shaping up as the company's first profitable quarter since early 2011.
The "less bad" results at the department store chain still in the early stages of a turnaround buoyed other retailers, some whose quarterly results also bested Wall Street expectations.
Sears climbed 6% to $42.87. The company said fourth-quarter sales fell 14%, but its losses narrowed to $358 million from $489million in the year-ago quarter.
Best Buy gained 4.3% to $26.94 in early trading after posting better-than-expected profits and word it will eliminate 2,000 management jobs. But shares faded by day's end, with the electronics chain off 30 cents (1%) to $25.57.
Kohl's rose 2.4% to $55.74 after reporting lower fourth-quarter earnings due to holiday markdowns. The company expects modest sales gains in 2014.
Target, which posted a 46% drop in fourth-quarter earnings and a 5.3% drop in revenue due in part to a security breach that scared off shoppers, held on to Wednesday's 7% gain, adding 17cents to $60.66.
Most of the sector's gains came despite comments by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who told the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday that economic data point to weak consumer spending and job growth. It's unclear whether both are being affected by the severe winter weather that's gripped much of the nation since December.
"We have seen quite a bit of soft data over the last month or six weeks," Yellen said. "We need to get a firmer handle about how much of the softer data can be explained by the weather."
Rough winter aside, retail analysts say some industry leaders have yet to weather turnarounds.
Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter's take on Sears, which posted a 9% drop in annual sales and suffered a full-year loss of nearly $1.4billion: "We would expect that 2013 was the nadir, as it is hard to imagine that a retailer can lose that much money on the large sales base that Sears enjoys. However, the company's continued denial on improving their store shopping experience, which remains where the vast majority of sales happen and to allow competitors with higher service levels to chip away at Sears' market share, makes one wonder how Sears turns cash flow positive."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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