JC Penney delivers 1st-quarter same-store sales after exec inadvertently sends email

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NEW YORK — J.C. Penney expects comparable-stores sales to top most expectations in the first quarter but industry watchers believe it will be at a cost and shares slid in Tuesday trading.

Figures for sales at stores open at least a year were released in a regulatory filing Tuesday, the company said, after a senior official inadvertently sales data to a securities analyst. That data included had non-public information about first-quarter same stores sales to date, which are up about 6 percent.

J.C. Penney Co. said that based on the quarter-to-date performance and a shift in the timing of the Easter holiday from the prior year, it expects sales at stores open at least a year will rise 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent for the first quarter. That is above the 3.1 percent gain that analysts expected for the quarter, according to FactSet.

But shares slid nearly 4 percent amid worries about heavy discounting, which can drive up traffic in stores, but can also eat into profit margins. "There were a lot of unplanned discounts," said Brian Sozzi, CEO and chief equities strategist at Belus Capital Advisors, noting the trend toward heavy discounting was apparent at lots of other retailers. J.C. Penney's website featured 30 percent to 60 percent off fashion jewelry and 30 to 50 percent off home merchandise.

Sales at stores open at least a year is a key gauge of a retailer's health because it excludes the volatility associated with locations recently opened or closed.

For the holiday quarter ended Jan. 31 and for the full fiscal year, revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 4.4 percent.

The company expects to report final results for the fiscal first quarter next month.

Shares of J.C. Penney, which is based in Plano, Texas, shed 34 cents to $9.06 in late morning trading Tuesday.

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