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J.C. Penney sees sales gains, plans share buyback

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Department store operator J.C. Penney Co Inc. (JCP-N) said same-store sales and profit would continue to improve in 2011, citing its efforts to increase its offerings of fashionable clothing.
   
Penney also announced a $900 million US share repurchase plan, equal to more than 10 percent of its market capitalization. It said it would begin buying back shares in March.
   
The company said its exclusive Liz Clairborne branded line and its in-store Sephora cosmetics boutiques had helped sales and would continue to do so this year.
   
The company's largest shareholder, Pershing Square Capital Management's William Ackman, said last month that Penney has long underperformed rivals like Kohl's Corp. (KSS-N) and that his interest was primarily in helping Penney improve its retail business.
   
After stumbling during the recession as many of its shoppers traded down to discount chains, Penney's performance has been improving.
   
Same-store sales rose 4.5 percent during the holiday quarter, while overall sales were up 2.8 percent to $5.7 billion.
   
Penney said it expects more improvement, with same-store sales rising by a low-to-mid-single-digit percentage in fiscal 2011. The forecast is slightly above those of Kohl's, which expects growth of between 2 and 4 percent, and Macy's Inc. (M-N), which expects a 3-percent increase.
   
Penney expects comparable sales to be up 3 percent to 5 percent in the current quarter.
   
Penney has been in a turnaround that has centered on lining up trendier merchandise to win fashion-conscious customers.
   
It forecast fiscal 2011 earnings of $2 to $2.10 per share. For the current quarter, it expects a profit of 18 cents to 23 cents per share.
   
Penney on Friday reported net income for the fourth quarter, ended Jan. 29, rose 35.5-percent to $271 million, or $1.13 a share, from $200 million, or 84 cents a share, a year earlier.
   
Penney earned $1.09 per share from continuing operations, beating Wall Street expectations by one cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
   
Under pressure from Ackman, Penney in January said it would close five underperforming locations, two of its five remaining call centers, and finish winding down its catalog operations.
   
Ackman, who took a 16.5-percent stake in Penney last autumn, was elected to the company's board earlier this week, sparing Penney from the kind of bruising proxy fight he waged three years ago with discount chain Target Corp (TGT-N).
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