Ackman just noted on CNBC that “if Ron Johnson is still at JCP in 3-years, then he’s probably not the right guy.” This 3-year reference flies in the face of those who that think that Johnson is on a tight leash at JCP. He might be pressured to show improvement on the margin (signaling that the worst is behind us) but still has Board-level support to do the job he was brought on to accomplish.
Let's be clear, we're not fans of investing with Ackman. Going the other way has usually been a better bet.
But as noted recently, after 18 months of being bearish, we’re favorably predisposed on JCP. We still think that it is in the ‘Retail Hail Mary’ category, and its ultimate success 3-5 years down the road is suspect. But most failures are not linear. JCP’s stock performance on days where there are glimmers of hope are bigger than its corresponding losses on days where there are credible rumors of horrible fundamentals.
This is a year where JCP goes up against -25% comps, and will have nearly a third of its stores redesigned by the end of the year. That might not boost comps, but it helps sales per square foot -- which is what matters. Also, once the new format is complete for the redesigned stores, the content could be scaled into JCP's dot.com business, which has been down by over a third yy. Our strong view is that JCP will do what it can to close the comp gap this year – even if that means buying it. We think that the stock will trade with the top line – not with profitability. We’re not saying that’s right, but we think it’s reality.
Ultimately, is this one of those names where we fundamentally believe in the story and are comfortable putting our money alongside management and the largest activist shareholders. No way. It's got hair and it deserves it. But are we increasingly comfortable renting the stock in 2013? Yes.
See our 12/13/12 note – JCP: Reasons To Reconsider Your Short.