The chain, spending heavily to upgrade its 1,100 stores, reintroduced discounts and coupons to gain back customers after losing them when it dropped the discount model in favor of "everyday low prices" -- but it may be running out of time to turn itself around, BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Wayne Hood said in a research note.
"We were hoping to become more constructive on JCP following the significant underperformance in fiscal years 2012/2013," Hood, whose firm is part of BMO Capital Markets, said in a research note.
"However, our research leads us to move in the opposite direction and lower our rating back to underperform from market perform," he said.
The Plano, Texas, company's stock has fallen more than 30 percent in a month, after reporting a net loss of $552 million, or $2.51 a share, in its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Feb. 2.
Revenue plunged 28.4 percent to $3.9 billion, the company said.
In January 2012, new Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson, a former Apple Inc. executive who pioneered the Apple Stores concept, declared he would transform the fading chain into "America's favorite store."
Hood sees four potential outcomes for the company over the next 12 to 24 months, with three of them negative.
The most positive scenario has J.C. Penney getting back sales growth and stops hemorrhaging money by pulling back on capital spending and selling non-core assets, Hood said in his research note. This might make the company marginally profitable in this year's third quarter.
Another scenario sees modest growth but continued losses over the next five years, he said.
The last two scenarios involve bankruptcy filings. One would be a "strategic voluntary" Chapter 11 bankruptcy next year that would be followed by a smaller company and some profits.
The last option would be a forced bankruptcy the first or second quarter of fiscal 2014, he said.