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Penney monthly same-store sales rise for first time since 2011

A woman checks her phone outside the entrance of a J.C. Penney store in New York August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
A woman checks her phone outside the entrance of a J.C. Penney store in New York August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Phil Wahba

(Reuters) - J.C. Penney Co Inc on Thursday reported its first monthly same-store sales gain in nearly two years on the back of deep discounts and the decision to resume stocking merchandise that the retailer's long-time shoppers liked.

Shares were up 4.9 percent to $8.08 in premarket trading after the company said comparable sales rose 0.9 percent in October.

Penney, which has been offering steep bargains to win back shoppers after a failed attempt to go upmarket in 2012 led to a 25 percent sales drop, last reported a monthly same-store sales gain in December 2011.

Chief Executive Myron Ullman attributed the improvement in part to the return of popular in-house brands including St. John's Bay, which were jettisoned by his predecessor Ron Johnson during Penney's ill-fated transformation last year.

Ullman also said Penney saw "significant" sales increases last month in national brands from Levi Strauss & Co , Nike Inc and PVH Corp's Izod.

Ullman came back to the helm in April with the task of stanching a sales hemorrhage after customers rejected Johnson's efforts to remake the 111-year-old department store by eschewing coupons and sales and offering trendier merchandise.

The return of Penney's aggressive promotions, aimed at luring back shoppers and clearing out remaining merchandise ordered by Johnson, will however dent gross profit margin for the third quarter, Ullman warned. But gross margin improved each month during the quarter, he added

Ullman also said the upcoming holiday season would be "extremely competitive."

(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Alden Bentley)

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