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J.C. Penney Will Pay As Much As $38 Million In Severance Costs

By Karen Talley Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) will take a $30 million to $38 million pretax charge in connection with layoffs the retailer announced last week. The majority of the staff, some 600, were let go from the company's Plano, Texas, headquarters. The other staffers, about 300, are at a call center in Pittsburgh the company will close June 29. Penney expects to take most of the charges in the first quarter, which ends April 28. The steps are being taken as J.C. Penney tries to make itself into a leaner organization as it reorganizes operations around a new selling approach. Penney wants to change from a promotionally-driven retailer to one focused on presentation and everyday value. Chief Executive Ron Johnson, who joined the company in November from Apple Inc. (AAPL), has said that Penney will operate more like a "start-up," with fewer layers of management and more accountability. Johnson in January laid out an ambitious plan that involved carving stores into a warren of specialty shops. Penney revealed additional details of the strategy last week, saying locations will contain stores within stores, shops and boutiques, with new merchandise offered on a monthly basis. But overhauling the chain's fleet of 1,100 stores poses costly challenges. Penney has been in heated competition with rivals such as Macy's Inc. (M) and Kohl's Corp. (KSS) and recently announced it is adding products from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (MSO) to its roster, a move that spawned a lawsuit from Macy's, which said it has exclusive rights to Martha Stewart merchandise. Penney plans to reduce annual costs by $900 million by the end of 2013, including $200 million in savings from the corporate headquarters, $400 million in store operations and $300 million in advertising. In February, Penney said it swung to a loss in its fiscal fourth quarter, as the retailer shouldered costs tied to its revamped pricing strategy. -By Karen Talley, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2196;

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