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J.C. Penney reports comp sales drop, to shut 130 140 stores


´╗┐Department store operator J. C. Penney Co Inc (JCP. N) said on Friday it would close about 130-140 stores over the next few months, and reported a bigger-than-expected drop in same-store sales for the holiday quarter. The company said it would also initiate a voluntary early retirement program for about 6,000 eligible employees and close two distribution facilities. Shares of the company, which reported its first annual adjusted profit in five years, rose 3 percent in premarket trading. J. C. Penney's store closures come after larger rival Macy's Inc (M. N) said in November it would shut 100 stores, as department stores struggle with weak demand for apparel and growing competition from online retailers.

"We believe closing stores will also allow us to adjust our business to effectively compete against the growing threat of online retailers," Chief Executive Officer Marvin Ellison said in a statement. The stores being closed represent about 13-14 percent of J. C. Penney's store base and account for less than 5 percent of annual sales, the company said.

J. C. Penney said it expected annual savings of about $200 million from the cost-cutting measures, and would take a related pre-tax charge of about $225 million in the first half of the current year. Sales at stores open more than a year fell 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter ended Jan. 28, bigger than the 0.5 percent drop estimated by analysts polled by research firm Consensus Metrix.

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Peugeot boss offers UK union reassuring words on Vauxhall plants LONDON The head of French carmaker PSA played down the threat to British plants as he discussed his potential takeover of GM's European operations during a visit to London on Friday.

Oil futures suggest bullish funds' big bet on price may pay off LONDON Oil investors have placed the biggest bet in history that prices will rise, as the world's largest exporters cut output to reduce a glut in supply, and the futures market is suggesting for the first time in a year that they could be onto a winner.

Oil slips after U.S. crude stocks build to record high


´╗┐Oil prices ended slightly lower on Wednesday as record high U.S. crude supplies tempered expectations that the market will rebalance as evidence emerges that OPEC producers are complying with an agreement to cut production. Crude stockpiles in the United States, the world's top oil consumer, rose 1.5 million barrels last week, less than forecast, but touching a record at 520.2 million barrels after eight straight weekly builds.[EIA/S]The consecutive increases have fueled worries that demand growth may not be sufficient to soak up the global oil glut despite a deal by major oil producers to cut output during the first half of the year. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures for April delivery CLc1 settled at $53.83 a barrel, down 18 cents or 0.3 percent. May Brent crude futures LCOc1 dropped 15 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $56.36 a barrel.

"The EIA stats don't offer much in the way of surprises this week," said David Thompson, executive vice-president at Powerhouse, an energy-specialized commodities broker in Washington. "Lack of weather-generated demand for heating oil will be offset in coming weeks by agricultural demand, but with refineries coming back into service, the market looks capable of meeting any increased demand." Despite the reaction to the data, oil remained locked within a tight trading range as some investors took heart from strict OPEC compliance with its pledge to cut output.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries reduced its oil output for a second month in February, a Reuters survey found, showing the exporter group has boosted already strong compliance to around 94 percent. Heftier cuts by Saudi Arabia and Angola helped offset weaker compliance by other members that agreed to limit their output.

However, oil production in Russia, which pledged to cut its output by 300,000 barrels per day under an agreement with OPEC, fell in February to around 11.1 million bpd from over 11.2 million bpd in October, two sources familiar with the data told Reuters, showing weak compliance with agreed supply curbs. The market offered little reaction to news of a rise in North Sea crude supply next month. Loading programmes for the four crudes that underpin dated Brent showed a rise to 908,000 bpd from March's 884,000 bpd. [O/LOAD]