How to Profit From J.C. Penney Right Now

Whether you are a bull or a bear, you can find support for your view on the troubled J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) . Current sales metrics aren't encouraging, but some investors have placed their faith in the new CEO and the man responsible for the beloved Apple retail experience. At this point, though, J.C. Penney is still anyone's bet until we see more data come out. But that doesn't mean you can't find a winner in Penney's renovation. Take a look at these companies that are benefiting from the revitalization and boost your portfolio.

Tough love
I have made the case for a J.C. Penney investment for some time now. It's a deep-value pick with top-tier talent at the steering wheel. But the company's performance this year doesn't lie --shrinking profits, big-time capital outlays, and a failed marketing strategy. In the long run, I'm still a Penney's fan and will stick by my call, but I admit the company has a long road ahead to become what Bill Ackman believes it can be. In the meantime, there are a few companies out there that are seeing material benefits from all that is going on behind the scenes at Penney's renovation. Regardless of whether the department store chain makes it or not, the money it has spent on sprucing things up is nonrefundable and ends up in someone's bank account. I may not be able to convince everyone that JCP is a solid long-term hold, but these shorter-term plays are definitely worth your attention.

As you likely know by now, the face of J.C. Penney's new effort is to bring in more notable, desirable brands in the form of mini-stores within the department store itself. It's a strategy that I firmly believe in -- why try to convince people to buy your no-name brands when you can outsource the whole thing to brands that are already on the minds of shoppers? JCPenney the department store will soon become a real estate company -- leasing out its massive showroom to companies with established brands.

Part of this strategy involves creating desirable showroom spaces for Penney's partners to inhabit. You can equate this to remodeling your home -- new shelving, cabinetry, lighting fixtures, displays, etc. Just like your shag-carpet living room with the brown plaid couch, JCPenney stores are in need of a more modern look.

So far, that has involved some big orders from Leggett and Platt (NYSE: LEG ) . Since the fourth quarter of 2011, top- and bottom-line numbers have seen very healthy growth. Net income grew 47.5% from the first to the second quarter alone. The president of Leggett's commercial division credits J.C. Penney with carrying the unit, which has otherwise had trouble growing given the tepid economic climate.

J.C. Penney might not be rewarding shareholders, but this satellite play is up almost 30% since the end of June.

Tag, you're it
Leggett & Platt isn't the only shop benefiting from the new J.C. Penney. Taking a page from his days at Apple, CEO Ron Johnson has decided to rid the stores of cash registers and move item inventorying to an RFID system. RFID tagging makes managing inventory easier and checkout go more smoothly. Though it's an expensive crossover, I believe J.C. Penney will ultimately see a major benefit. It is one of the first companies to fully make the switch to RFID, as most major retailers are still in testing phases. Johnson is sure, though, from his experience at Apple, that this system is far superior to traditional inventory management systems and will transform the business when it switches over early next year.

One company vying for JCP's RFID contract is R.R. Donnelly & Sons (NYSE: RRD ) . R.R. Donnelly is a leader in RFID manufacturing and logistics. Though last year was a losing year in the net income department, things are looking up. The company recently secured a multiyear agreement with a publishing company, and if the J.C. Penney deal goes through, the stock will see a major boost from the near-52-week low it's at now. The $2 billion company trades at only 5.84 times forward earnings while it makes a strong effort to build a nice book of business for the next few years, making it an attractive pick for the value seekers in the group.

Thanks, JCP
I am hopeful for the future of J.C. Penney. I believe a brilliant manager can turn around a dead company -- just look at Berkshire Hathaway (cheap shot, I know). But these companies may be safer picks for the risk-averse investor.

For some more retail stock advice, check out this special free report from our analysts about what they call the cash kings of retail.

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Jeanne Marie

Can't stand the NEW Penny' at Kohl's now...JCP's CEO has ruined the company with his high nonsense ideas...Mr. JC Penny must be turning over in his grave...have not received any of their stinky adds in the paper or on computer....could this mean they are going under???? Won't shop here until they return to the way it used to be. The old saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it"......BB JCP

January 27 2013 at 5:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Even their weekly adds are annoying-haven't seena thing in their new format-that I like! Just entering the store you end up talking to people you don't even know because they are all frustrated with what they see.

October 20 2012 at 2:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is not the lack of coupons an/or sales that is killing J. C. Penny's - It is the pricing and quality of the merchandise . Prices are actually higher than their competitors The designer lines and little boutiques are simply not what the typical Penny shopper is looking for or wants. I find is quite silly that many on here are still making homophobic comments about Ellen DeGeneres being a spokesperson - Heck, I have not seen a single promotion with Ellen in almost a year. Is she still doing ad for Penny's? I believe that if Penny's went back to its former self, and continued to use Ellen doing some fun commercials, they would overtake Macy's, Kohls, Sears and WalMart (cheap imports) and become one of the top clothing retailers.

October 20 2012 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Until JCPenney returns to its former method of advertising, I will no longer shop there.

October 19 2012 at 9:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I shopped JCP today! I Bought! I like the new look and prices. For the last 20 years I have only bought Men's clothing for the husband and son, it may take time to bring back those of us who left years ago! So I would say if they got me back shopping JCP because of the New Ad's and the new look in the store. The in-store coupons I cut out is outdated by the time I find time to shop and pull it from my wallet to purchase..expired!

October 19 2012 at 7:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

JCP still has great prices, and great clothes. If you are bashing them, you haven't been in the store lately. Check it out, don't listen to all the negative talk.

October 19 2012 at 6:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Johnson Has to Go!. You don't treat employee's and Customers as disposable commodities, and have success.

October 04 2012 at 2:43 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply