JCPenney is Toast: Wal-Mart Wins Among Retailers

Here is a headline that should come as no surprise to anyone: “JCPenney (NYSE:$JCP) Turnaround in Doubt as Sales Plummet,” CNBC, November 9, 2012.

Big shock.  JCPenney has been a company struggling to find direction for the past twenty years.  The company is a “tweener” that had a hard enough time competing with the likes of Wal-Mart (NYSE:$WMT) and Target (NYSE:$TGT) on the low end and with Dillard’s (NYSE:$DDS) and Macy’s (NYSE:$M) at the mid-range price point before the internet revolution.  But now that the company has to compete with established internet retailers like (Nasdaq:$AMZN) and every up-and-coming online retailer as well.

To put it bluntly, JCPenny is toast.  For a long-term play almost guaranteed to make money, you could consider shorting it and waiting for it to eventually go belly up.  But that’s not what I want to discuss today.  Instead, I want to recommend that readers pick up shares of Wal-Mart.

Consumer sentiment is improving—Reuters reports that it just hit a five-year high—yet with the dreaded fiscal cliff looming in the wake of the presidential election, I expect consumer to be looking for bargains in their Christmas shopping this year.

This is bullish for low-cost internet retailers, of course.  Yet with and other major online players now forced to levy sales taxes, the cost differential with “bricks and mortar” retailers isn’t as wide as it used to be.

And this brings me back to Wal-Mart.  In addition to running the largest chain of retail stores in the world by sales, Wal-Mart is aggressively jumping into Amazon’s territory with an expanded online presence.  It may be years before Wal-Mart is able to effectively compete with Amazon in the online sphere, but Wal-Mart’s massive physical presence does give it one unique advantage over Amazon that I expect to be significant over time: the avoidance of shipping costs.  As an example, I recently dropped several hundred dollars buying my son a tree house.  Wal-Mart’s price was roughly equal to Amazon’s, yet I was able to save nearly $300 in shipping costs due to my option of picking up the boxes at my local store (alas, it has been two weeks and I am still trying to assemble the @#$&ing thing, but that is another story for another article).

Wal-Mart trades for 13 times next year’s expected earnings and yields a reasonable 2.2% in dividends.  I consider this a stock that you can buy and hold for at least the next 1-5 years.

Disclosures: Sizemore Capital is long WMT. This article first appeared on TraderPlanet.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management and the author of the Sizemore Insights blog.

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