J.C. Penney Co.'s comparable store sales decreased 7.2% for the five-week period ended April 4, better than the company's guidance for a low-double digit to mid-teen decrease. During the same period last year, comparable store sales decreased 12.3%. Total company sales in March decreased 5.4%.

“Our success with spring merchandise shows the great work our team has done to combine enhanced style with affordable prices to deliver excellent value to our customers. The positive response we are receiving is most evident across our women's assortments and increasingly in our home business,” said Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III, chairman and chief executive officer. “Along with a conservative approach to planning our inventory, adding newness and excitement to our merchandise assortments will continue to be an important part of our strategy in this difficult environment.”

Overall, home was the best performing division in March, while fine jewelry experienced the weakest sales results. Geographically, the best performing area of the country was the central region, while the southeast region had the weakest results.

In the nine-week period, sales were down 6.2% to $2.62 billion. Comps were off 7.8%.

April Sales and Updated First Quarter Sales and Earnings Outlook

The following updated guidance takes into consideration operating performance during the first two months of the company's fiscal first quarter and the company's sales guidance for the month of April.

    * April sales: Comparable department store sales are expected to decrease 9% to 12%. In last year's April period, comparable store sales decreased 1.7%. April sales results this year will reflect the shift of Easter into the April reporting period and include one less selling day compared to last year.
    * First quarter sales: Management now expects comparable store sales to decrease 8% to 10% compared to previous guidance for a decrease of 12% to 15%.
    * First quarter earnings: Management now expects to report a loss in the range of 5 cents to 10 cents per share, which includes a negative impact of approximately 23 cents per share for non-cash primary pension plan expense. This compares to previous guidance for a loss of 20 cents to 30 cents per share, which also included the pension expense impact.