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S&P Cuts J.C. Penney Rating One Notch

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered its junk-level ratings on J.C. Penney & Co. (JCP) for the second time in two months, pointing to the department-store operator's continued weak performance and expectations it will see further operational disruptions. S&P cut Penney's rating one notch to B-plus, four levels into junk territory, from double-B-minus. The firm removed all ratings from watch for a downgrade. The outlook is negative, reflecting expectations that Penney's new pricing and merchandise strategy will cause further disruptions to the company's operations over the next several quarters. Based on the current environment, further performance difficulties at Penney may result in the loss of market share to other competitors, such as Macy's Inc. (M), Kohl's Corp. (KSS), Dillard's Inc. (DDS) or other department stores or specialty retailers, said S&P analyst David Kuntz. The firm said it will take at least another few quarters for its new marketing message to stimulate customer traffic and for new merchandising strategies to have positive effects on performance. Until then, Penney's operations and credit protection measures are likely to deteriorate, S&P said. The downgrade comes a day after Penney said it will cut an additional 350 jobs at its headquarters, in what the retailer called the final phase of its home-office restructuring efforts. The company is in the middle of a vast transformation led by Chief Executive Ron Johnson. Penney swung to a $163 million loss in the first quarter, leading the chain to eliminate its dividend and raising questions about Mr. Johnson's strategy of cutting discounts in favor of generally lower prices. Shares were off 1.9% to $20.37 in recent trading. The stock has slumped 41% over the past three months. Write to Nathalie Tadena at nathalie.tadena@dowjones.com

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