Shares in JC Penney rose 11 percent today after legendary investor George Soros disclosed his 7.9 percent stake in the company. Soros now owns 17.4 million shares of a retail business that commentators have called everything from "truly depressing" to "an unmitigated disaster."
Pundits who are down on Penney certainly have a point: After announcing a 25 percent crash in sales for Q1, the retailer booted CEO Ron Johnson after just 17 months on the job and replaced him with his predecessor, Mike Ullman. By mid-April, the cash-strapped company had hired Blackstone Group and Clearwater Partners to help raise $1 billion in cash just to remain solvent. Shares have slid more than 50 percent from this time last year.
But not everyone lost hope during April's turmoil. William A. Ackman, the head of Pershing Square Capital Management and owner of a 17.8 percent stake in Penney, did not divest when shares tumbled. "I don't see a scenario in which we don't work this thing out," he reportedly said earlier this month.
And now, Soros' vote of confidence really lends some weight to Ackman's words.
Soros' bets don't always pan out, but the 82-year-old has become a legend and made a fortune of several bold and successful gambles. Remember, this is the man who once made $1 billion in a day when he shorted the British pound, earning him the moniker "The Man who Broke the Bank of England."
So should everyone flock to Penney because Soros did? Diane Brady from Bloomberg Businessweek doesn't think so:
Like Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, and Bill Ackman, he's one of those genius investors whose name alone can move a market. The formula is similar: Take a company that investors are wrinkling their noses at — J.C. Penney comes to mind — and put it in on the radar screen of a notoriously picky billionaire. If the billionaire likes it, well, we should, too.
Is Soros a man who has particular insight into retail that the rest of us can't see? No. Has anything fundamental changed since Ron Johnson was ousted as Penney's chief executive? Probably not. But Soros can put in the kind of money that gets a stock noticed. [Bloomberg Businessweek]
Rocco Pendola of The Street goes farther, suggesting it would be "crazy" for ordinary investors to follow Soros's lead:
It's not like he's buying Apple (APPL), a company you could make a logical bull case for. If you're a long-term investor, it would not be quite as crazy to counter the negativity that surrounds Apple and take a position. There's a nice, rising, more-than-stable dividend, a beyond-strong cash position, an exciting existing product line and the potential for an equally-as-solid pipeline. JCP has none of the above. Don't buy into the dead cat bounce. [The Street]