What Recovery? Sears And J.C. Penney Are Dying

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Michael Snyder of The Economic Collapse blog,

Two of the largest retailers in America are steamrolling toward bankruptcy.  Sears and J.C. Penney are both losing hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter, and both of them appear to be caught in the grip of a death spiral from which it will be impossible to escape.  Once upon a time, Sears was actually the largest retailer in the United States, and even today Sears and J.C. Penney are "anchor stores" in malls all over the country. 

When I was growing up, my mother would take me to the mall when it was time to go clothes shopping, and there were usually just two options: Sears or J.C. Penney.  When I got older, I actually worked for Sears for a little while.  At the time, nobody would have ever imagined that Sears or J.C. Penney could go out of business someday.  But that is precisely what is happening.  They are both shutting down unprofitable stores and laying off employees in a desperate attempt to avoid bankruptcy, but everyone knows that they are just delaying the inevitable.  These two great retail giants are dying, and they certainly won't be the last to fall.  This is just the beginning.

The Death Of Sears

Sales have declined at Sears for 27 quarters in a row, and the legendary retailer has been closing hundreds of stores and selling off property in a frantic attempt to turn things around.

Unfortunately for Sears, it is not working.  In fact, Sears has announced that it expects to lose "between $250 million to $360 million" for the quarter that will end on February 1st.

Things have gotten so bad that Sears is even making commercials that openly acknowledge how badly it is struggling.  For example, consider the following bit of dialogue from a recent Sears television commercial featuring two young women...

"Wait, the movie theater is on the other side," the passenger says.


"But Sears always has parking!" the driver responds.

Sears always has parking???

Of course the unspoken admission is that Sears always has parking because nobody shops there anymore.

I have posted video of the commercial below...


A couple of months ago I walked into a Sears store in the middle of the week and it was like a ghost town.  A few associates were milling around here and there having private discussions among themselves, but other than that it was eerily quiet.

You can find 18 incredibly depressing photographs which do a great job of illustrating why Sears is steadily dying right here.  This was once one of America's greatest companies, but soon it will be dead.

The Death Of J.C. Penney

J.C. Penny has been a dead man walking for a long time.  In some ways, it is in even worse shape than Sears.

If you can believe it, J.C. Penney actually lost 586 million dollars during the second quarter of 2013 alone.

How in the world do you lose 586 million dollars in three months?

Are they paying employees to flush giant piles of cash down the toilets?

This week J.C. Penney announced that it is eliminating 2,000 jobs and closing 33 stores.  The following is a list of the store closings that was released to the public...

Selma, Ala. -- Selma Mall

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. -- Arrow Plaza

Colorado Springs -- Chapel Hills Mall

Meriden, Conn. -- Meriden Square

Leesburg, Fla. -- Lake Square Mall

Port Richey, Fla. -- Gulf View Square

Muscatine, Iowa -- Muscatine Mall

Bloomingdale, Ill. -- Stratford Square Mall

Forsyth, Ill. -- Hickory Point Mall

Marion, Ind. -- Five Points Mall

Warsaw, Ind. -- Marketplace Shopping Center

Salisbury, Md. -- The Centre at Salisbury

Marquette, Mich. -- Westwood Plaza

Worthington, Minn. -- Northland Mall

Gautier, Miss. -- Singing River Mall

Natchez, Miss. -- Natchez Mall

Butte, Mont. -- Butte Plaza Shopping Center

Cut Bank, Mont.

Kinston, N.C. -- Vernon Park Mall

Burlington, N.J. -- Burlington Center

Phillipsburg, N.J. -- Phillipsburg Mall

Wooster, Ohio -- Wayne Towne Plaza

Exton, Pa. -- Exton Square Mall

Hazleton, Pa. -- LaurelMall

Washington, Pa. -- Washington Mall

Chattanooga -- Northgate Mall

Bristol, Va. -- Bristol Mall

Norfolk, Va. -- Military Circle Mall

Fond du Lac, Wis., Forest Mall

Janesville, Wis. -- Janesville Mall

Rhinelander, Wis. -- Lincoln Plaza Center

Rice Lake, Wis. -- Cedar Mall

Wausau, Wis. -- Wausau Mall

The CEO of J.C. Penney says that these closures were necessary for the future of the company...

"As we continue to progress toward long-term profitable growth, it is necessary to reexamine the financial performance of our store portfolio and adjust our national footprint accordingly," CEO Myron Ullman said in a news release.

Actually, his statement would be a lot more accurate if he replaced "continue to progress toward long-term profitable growth" with " prepare for bankruptcy".

It would be hard to overstate how much of a disaster 2013 was for J.C. Penney.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNN article...

It's been a brutal year for J.C. Penney, its stock falling over 60% in the past 12 months. The company has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter, and is in the midst of another turnaround effort after ousting former Apple executive Ron Johnson last year.

Overall, shares of J.C. Penney have fallen by an astounding 84 percent since February 2012.  And keep in mind that this decline has happened during one of the greatest stock market rallies of all-time.

For now, J.C. Penney will continue to try to desperately raise more cash from investors that are foolish enough to give it to them, but all that is really accomplishing is just delaying the inevitable.

If you would like to see some photos that graphically illustrate why J.C. Penney is falling apart, you can find some right here.

And of course Sears and J.C. Penney are not the only large retailers that have fallen on hard times.  This week the CEO of Best Buy admitted that sales declined at his chain during the holiday season...

Best Buy shares skid on Thursday after the retailer said total revenue and sales at its established U.S stores fell in the all-important holiday season due to intense discounting by rivals, supply constraints for key products and weak traffic in December.

In the immediate aftermath of that announcement, Best Buy stock was down more than 30 percent in pre-market trading.

And Macy's just announced that it is laying off 2,500 employees in an attempt to move in a more profitable direction.

So why is all of this happening?

Aren't we supposed to be in the midst of an "economic recovery"?

That is what the Obama administration and the mainstream media keep telling us, but it is simply not true.

In fact, a new Gallup survey has found that the number of Americans that are "financially worse off" than a year ago is significantly higher than the number of Americans that say that they are "financially better off" than a year ago...

More Americans, 42%, say they are financially worse off now than they were a year ago, reversing the lower levels found over the past two years. Just more than a third of Americans say their financial situation has improved from a year ago.

That is why these stores are dying.

Things continue to get even worse for the middle class.

But a lot of people out there will continue to deny what is happening right in front of their eyes.  They are kind of like that woman over in California who was conned out of half a million dollars by a Nigerian online dating scam.  They will never admit the truth until it is far too late to do anything about it.

So have you been to a Sears or a J.C. Penney lately?

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resurger's picture

am not sad.. fuck them

willwork4food's picture

It is a sad day when yesterday's giants pass away. They will probably be forced to restructure, chapter 11. Funny thing is, I have a pending work contract with Sears locally through a service contractor. Since reading all the bad news at ZH I will likely tell them why I will not be going ahead with the work. Just reading this makes me think I might have saved myself several hundred dollars if I had taken the job. ((shiver))

CrazyCooter's picture

What if we have a hedge fund, say somebody like Bill Ackman, announce a huge short position in JCP (e.g. maybe circulate a huge slide deck at some investor conference or something). Then, he could lure in a big wall street ego, (Carl Ichan?) to slam the stock higher through productive, shareholder activism?

JCP saved!

Man, that was easy. I should have gone to school for central planning instead of engineering.



Gankfest's picture

More Failism brought to you by Socialism...

Richard Chesler's picture

Perhaps selling chinese crap is not the best business model after all...

Ward no. 6's picture

well it is pretty hard not to find chinese crap no matter where you shop unless you go out of your way to buy from companies that offer "stuff" from France, Germany etc. I sometimes shop at Williams Sonoma so that I can get something from Germany or France.

BC6's picture

Anyone remember Woolworth's or Gemco? As a kid, I used to enjoy getting an Orange Julius from Woolworth's. 

Northern Lights's picture

I do remember Woolworth's.  Back in the 70's when I was something like 6-7 years old.

I recall my mom was shopping for something in there and in the back they had their own diner/restaurant.  My mom bought me a hotdog in that diner.

My only memory of that place, but I remember that hotdog. LOL


AldousHuxley's picture

Target has better clothing quality than Sears of JC Penney.


They are like Detroit who experienced decreasing house values during the housing boom.





JohnnyBriefcase's picture

Ames. Caldor. Bradlees. Lechmere.

Hobbleknee's picture

Oh that brings back memories.  I don't think I have an Orange Julius since then.

Northern Lights's picture

I remember a time in the early to mid 80's when I'd go toy shoping with my mom as a little kid.  She'd ask me what I wanted for my birthday.  I'd show it to her.  If it said "Made in USA", she'd purchase it for me.  If it said "Made in Taiwan", she'd say "Pick something else". LOL

The point is, in the 80's you still could find stuff made in the USA and could avoid purchasing the Chinese shit.

Today, that option no longer exists.

The best toy trucks I EVER had as a young kid were the one's made by Tonka.  90% of the toy was made of solid metal.  Hell, if you left it out in the rain, it would rust.  The axles holding the wheels were steel rods, and the wheels themselves were either plastic or rubber.  I remember owning a dump truck and two backhoe/frontloader combo vehicles.  I used to get the skin on my hands and fingers pinched in the frontloader lever-contraption.  Sometimes it would draw blood.  Didn't matter, you could pound on those toys to no end and you couldn't wreck them unless your dad drove over them with the family station wagon cause you left it in the driveway again.

A few years back I purchased a Tonka dumptruck for my nephew.  The only thing metal on it was the dump-bucket which was more tin than metal.  Rest of the toy including the truck chassis was plastic.

Now everythings made in China.


-NaN-'s picture

When I was a kid, if it was imported, even from China, an "import" was synonymous with expensive, and we bought American goods because they were cheaper.    During dinner parties, my granparents would make a big deal to serve food on their "China". That is all changed now. Today we eat on our China every meal, every day.  Oma and Opa would be proud of our success /sarc.

Overfed's picture

When I was in first grade, my class went on a field trip to the Tonka factory. It was pretty neat, and I still have the little red Tonka van that I got on the trip. That was in the late 70s, I think they closed the factory for good in the early 90s or late 80s. :-(

BC6's picture

I picked up some of those $1.97 shorts after summer turned to fall. I received compliments both from friends and family wearing the JCP clearance shorts.

I  never understood how they can sell some of their clearance items so low either, LOL.

Acet's picture

Directly at the producer, any kind of basic clothing is stupendously cheap to buy.

In once had a chat with a guy who owned a company here in the UK which imported plain t-shirts into the UK, then stamped them with the design of choice of the client and sold it to the client (typical big surface clothes chains like M&S, equivalent to Sears and JCPenny).

He told me that each t-shirt cost him about 28 pence (46 cent) after all shipping costs and taxes. After stamping they would be sold to clients for about 49 pence (81 cents). The typical store price would be something around £2.50 - £3.50 ($4.11 - $5.75).

In the US (which doesn't have the 20% VAT which is included in all the amounts I quoted above), I'm pretty certain those $1.97 shorts are still being sold far above cost.


PS: If you look at the numbers above, it becomes clear that the store chains which are big enough to have own brand products (and the brands) make tons of profit out of cheap clothing manufactured abroad. This means that they have a huge incentive to import cheap stuff, put their label in it and sell it with a fat margin and is why nowadays it's damn near impossible to find locally manufactured goods.

Of course, the other side of the coin and what you are seeing unfolding now is that customers eventually wise up to the scam and either demand prices which are closer to cost or demand quality which is closer to the price they pay. This is probably why Sears and JCPenny are getting more squeeze than the lowest-end and the high-end chains.

RKDS's picture



PS: If you look at the numbers above, it becomes clear that the store chains which are big enough to have own brand products (and the brands) make tons of profit out of cheap clothing manufactured abroad. This means that they have a huge incentive to import cheap stuff, put their label in it and sell it with a fat margin and is why nowadays it's damn near impossible to find locally manufactured goods.

Of course, the other side of the coin and what you are seeing unfolding now is that customers eventually wise up to the scam and either demand prices which are closer to cost or demand quality which is closer to the price they pay. This is probably why Sears and JCPenny are getting more squeeze than the lowest-end and the high-end chains.

This times a million.  It's a practically vertical climb to get big enough to produce a product but when you finally do it's a gravy train that's almost impossible to derail.  And yet somehow they're managing to do just that.


Stuck on Zero's picture

Lets see,  The retailers switched to buying all Asian made crap.  Then all their customers lost their jobs.  Now they are going broke.  Fuck Congress.


PT's picture

I'm still wondering, how long till they work it out?  Do they care?  The average yob in the street buys foreign made goods because they are cheaper (and later on because he can't find anything else to buy), then wonders why he loses his job - he was pretty powerless anyway.  But JCP, Sears et al, they lose multi-million dollar empires ... and they just let it go????  Without a fight???  Lemme guess, they buy puts in their own company and when it all crashes, they start an equivalent shopping chain in China or India?  I really thought the revolution would start with the retailers because they have the "most" wealth and power, and have the most to lose when the middle class dies.

A message to those retailers out there:  If the US consumer is fucked then YOU are next!  

Never mind, just get yourself a good HFT algo.  Who needs revenue when you can have artificially jacked up share prices? 

Acet's picture

Look at the style of top level management in publicly traded companies or in fact the way the financial markets are working:

- Quick profits and damn the consequences are all the rage, long-term planning is out of fashion.


So yeah, nobody gave a shit about what would happen long-term if all the jobs were outsourced, in fact they don't even give a damn about what happens mid-term when you fire all the knowledgeable employees and hire the cheapest, dumbest people on short-term contracts (and customer service collapses to "absolute shit" level).


TheRideNeverEnds's picture

their downfall was not accepting EBT.

hankwil74's picture

Yeah, WalMart and Target are getting killed selling cheap Chinese crap.

SafelyGraze's picture

paw-paw's 12-yr-old craftsman router stopped working

so last weekend he finally took the thing apart. spread out on the kitchen table.

all the wires seemed ok

he thought maybe the brushes looked worn down from use

I helped him search "online" using the "inter-net-work" to source replacement brushes at five bucks.

he wasn't interested.

he filed down the back of the plastic doohicky where the cable is seated (the cable that attaches through the spring to the back of the brush)

plugged her into the outlet and she fired right up again

then he told me to see if I could put her back together again


old people!

some of them would prefer to repair or make do, rather than buy new stuff at the store (or online)


TheMerryPrankster's picture

eventually you got to change those brushes. The metal they are mounted on or the springs that hold them in place will begin to wear on the rotor when the brushes are too thin. Once that happens the rotor is shot and so is the motor. Might as well replace the brushes while you got it apart and oil the bearings on the shafts and your good to go for another 5-10 years.

mjcOH1's picture

I don't think this qualifies as sudden economic change:




Woolworth, Woolco, Montgomery-Ward, Ames, Circuit City, Bradlees, Anderson-Little, Zayre, Filenes, G Fox, Jordan Marsh, Kaufmann's, May Co, Marshal Field's, Lazarus, Rich's..... the beat goes on.

Billy Sol Estes's picture

I was sad when all the Warner Brother's stores disappeared when gay ol'Disney bought them out. Jerks

Billy Sol Estes's picture

Furrow's was a ladder step in between the mega home improvement stores and the mom and pop stores. They competed with the Sears of yester year that still sold tools and shit instead of clothes and shit. I still remember the one off of Alief Clodine rd in Houston before the (people who destroy things rather than build) took over that part of town.

klockwerks's picture

Safely, I'm one of those "old people" and it is far more fun to see if you can get another life out of a product made 30 years ago and made in the USA instead of China. It's an old thing as we were taught by our Paw-Paw, who went through the depression, never to throw anything away and how to make do with very little. I have stuff in my man cave that was passed on from my father and a lot of it is now 50-60 years old and it still works better than anything you could buy today. Besides, when you keep something like that or repair something, it's like sticking to the man and that is a GREAT feeling.

Kobe Beef's picture

yep. And youtube will show you how to do almost any repair.

Papasmurf's picture


What if we have a hedge fund, say somebody like Bill Ackman, announce a huge short position in JCP (e.g. maybe circulate a huge slide deck at some investor conference or something). Then, he could lure in a big wall street ego, (Carl Ichan?) to slam the stock higher through productive, shareholder activism?

JCP saved!

Icahn doesn't rescue companies, he disassembles them for their hidden wealth.

WillyGroper's picture

How about Eddie Lampert buying up K-Mart's & using both stores as real estate plays. His appendage caught in a wringer with the crash & as usual it's the little people who pay.

Like a dog tick he sucked them dry & got fat. Needs to be smashed between two rocks.

No different than Bain & the rest of these parasites. Play after play the same MO.

Dugald's picture


Amidst this gloom my LifeLine boat batteries after eight years of daily use are getting sick, new LL's arrive Thursday, they most likely will outlast me...still some good gear in this world.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I thought Sears was actually a Hedge Fund that used the 'flow' of its retail sales unit to make a killing in the stock market?

/half sarc

kaiserhoff's picture

There is a good reason for Sears.

If you buy a broken craftsman tool at a yard sale, and take it to Sears, they will give you a new one.

(You didn't hear it from me.) 

Now about those chaps.  We like your posts.  Safety first, young man;)

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

You guys ganged up on me and Mrs. Cog gave me that look. Oh oh. No more putting off the chaps chap.  :)

Already ordered and will be delivered tomorrow....God willing and the snow holds off.

<I refused to wear day glow orange, but we settled on Navy blue.>

pods's picture

Jesus Harold Christmas I wish I could unsee that picture.

I thought it was gonna be the Mad Max pic.

Gonna google some of Moochelle's finer shots to wash my eyes out.



Omegaman2211's picture

Who the hell here would tell you she's off limits? Get a grip.

DanDaley's picture

When your self-appointed job is to destroy a country, you can wear what you want.


At my wife's school the other day they served cheeze sticks, carrot sticks, and apple sauce (milk too, of course) -NO meat of any kind. Thanks, Michelle. 

fedupwhiteguy's picture

omg!! after that horror you'll have to cleanse yourself with an image totally on the otherside of the pendulum arc!!!



tip e. canoe's picture

chaps don't let chaps saw chapless

NoDebt's picture

Building and racing cars being my hobby since I was a kid, I can tell you that Craftsman warranty is a lot tougher to exercise than before.  OFFICIALLY it still exists but most sales associates must have been taught to push back on the practice to reduce their warranty claims.  Rusty?  Forget it.  Hammer marks or other signs of "abuse"?  Forget it.  And forget exchanges for new on more complicated things like ratchets- you'll be offered a repair kit or maybe a refurbished unit (which, trust me, is junk in most cases).  Going up the scale, more complicated things like torque wrenches or measuring calipers you can forget the warranty completely.

And if you buy ANYTHING from Sears that has an engine on it, which were never covered by the Craftsman hand tool warranty, you deserve your fate (which will not be pleasant).

That warranty was the last reason I had to keep going to Sears.  The tools were never the equal of a good MAC or SnapOn but the warranty made their purchase much more compelling.  Now it's turned into "meh".  And yeah, there's always plenty of parking as Sears in my area.


jim249's picture

Harbor Freight gave them a run for their money.

NoDebt's picture

Harbor Freight kicks ass.  Their stuff is so cheap who cares if it breaks?  Throw it in the trash and buy another.  Yeah, it's all Chinese-made crap, but it's half-decent quality Chinese made crap in most cases.  I have a Harbor Freight engine hoist and engine stand in my grarage right now.  

But do I measure bearing clearances and other critical measurements with their mics and calipers?  Hell no.  I have a very old set of Starrett equipment for that work.  All in wooden boxes with linen covers, handed down to me by my Grandfather (a WWII machinist and bombsight tech) for that kind of work.  Why measure to the thousandth when you can measure accurately to the TEN thousandth of an inch.... assuming you know how to use them and what a proper reading "feels" like in your hand while you use them.  And yes, I know how to use them.  I was taught by the best.  A German-born machinist, though he worked for the US during the war.

ghengis86's picture

Meh. I've broken so many cast piece of shit tools from HF that I frequent that store only for certain things. Yeah, it's super cheap, but it gets annoying.

It's a crap shoot. But if you know it going in, not that bad

dirtscratcher's picture

I agree it's a crap shoot, but just like in craps, sometimes you're a winner. A couple of years back I bought a Makita 4" grinder for around $80. Lasted maybe a year, then fried. In a pinch I bought a similar unit at HF for $14, really $14. Worked the living shit out of it for two years before it died, cutting quartzite stone with a diamond blade, and I mean some tough wear and tear. Best $14 I ever spent. I also bought a pneumatic framing nailer there for $80. Other carpenters who spent $300 plus on name brand units razzed the hell outta me, but it's still going strong ten years later. But, alas, some things I got there were junk. Like you said it's a crap shoot.

fedupwhiteguy's picture

My kids tease me about my HF purchases, but they don't realize how long I've been able to use them. I bought a wet tile saw for a dining room project 10 years ago. I bought a carbide tipped saw blade and turned it into my table saw for all the other projects around the home. I never had a HF tool fail on me for the project it was purchased for.