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JCPenney's Future Hinges On Getting Back To Basics And Out Of Bankruptcy By Black Friday

As the U.S. retail sector braces for its first Black Friday since the start of the coronavirus, JCPenney is fighting off a final push from shareholders to stop the Plano, Texas-based retailer's sale to mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Group


A contingent of the retailer's shareholders filed an eleventh-hour challenge to the sale with a U.S. Bankruptcy Court even though the purchase plan has been mostly approved by the major key parties, the Dallas Morning News reports. The shareholders are petitioning to find a way to reorganize rather than sell. A judge will rule on the motion Friday, according to DMN. 

"I don't think it will happen," retail consultant and former Morgan Stanley senior analyst Walter Loeb told Bisnow of the request to halt the sale. "I think the court is too far along in its decision to bring the company out of bankruptcy, so it will probably not accept the shareholders' complaint."

Whether the sale goes through or not, Penney's, like many other U.S. retailers, is facing a big test this holiday shopping season that could determine its life or death.

Loeb said the best-case scenario for JCPenney is to get out of bankruptcy before Black Friday, so it's able to pay vendors upfront for goods. While in bankruptcy, Penney's ability to stock up on merchandise is somewhat compromised, he said. 

"Once JCPenney is out of bankruptcy, they will have enough money to ensure vendors that they will pay their bills, and that is what is important now," Loeb said.

"Try to remember that vendors are scared that they are not going to get paid because they think JCPenney may not come out of bankruptcy. I am saying it is coming out of bankruptcy, and it will have enough money to pay for future shipments."

The worst thing that could happen is having the process delayed so close to the holiday shopping season, according to Loeb. This is particularly true since the 2020 retail season is a bellwether of how far major brands have fallen during the pandemic. 

"The continued COVID-19 pandemic is scaring everyone very much, including Macy's, who today said in a conference call that they cannot make any predictions about Christmas," Loeb said. 

This year's holiday retail sales growth is already projected to fall below the 4.1% annual average growth experienced since 2010, CBRE said in a recent report. CBRE estimated online holiday sales will rise 40% year-over-year, but that a sharp decrease in brick-and-mortar sales will leave holiday retail sales growth coming in under 2% this year. 

The holiday season does have a make-or-break mentality to it for retailers, Loeb said. But whether other retailers will have to close stores or make changes is still unknown. 

"I think we have to wait until next year to make that assessment," Loeb said. "I think right now Macy's can continue, although I think they may be closing some more stores. I think most retailers will look at their stores as the fiscal year ends and try to decide whether all of the stores can continue to operate."

But for Penney's, the best path forward is getting out of bankruptcy as soon as possible, Loeb said.