US retailer JC Penney's stock hit an all time low as sweeping store closures and a challenging retail environment drove the embattled department store chain to report a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss.

Penney's results were in contrast to those from industry stalwarts Macy's and Nordstrom, both of which beat market expectations for second-quarter profit and comparable sales on Thursday.
           
Shares in Penney, which were down 16% at $3.96 in morning trading, have tumbled 43% since the start of the year. The stock has widely underperformed those of peers such as Nordstrom and Kohls, signaling that investors are taking note of which department stores are best reshaping themselves amid an ongoing retail meltdown.

Department stores have been struggling with declining shopping centre traffic and tough competition from off-price retailers and e-commerce behemoth Amazon. Some chains, notably Nordstrom, have fought back by investing heavily in their own off-price stores and online presence.
           
Looking to cut costs and make more money from its sprawling real estate assets, Penney's, like Macy's, has been shuttering stores in failing malls, putting pressure on its bottom line.

Sales at Penney's stores open more than 12 months fell for the fifth straight quarter, down 1.3%, slightly worse than the 1.2% decline expected by analysts polled by research firm Consensus Metrix.

However, Penney highlighted improved performance in its apparel business, including a "significant acceleration" in childrens' clothes. The business had been a drag on sales for several quarters.

Penney's net loss widened to $62m in the second quarter ended July 29, from $56m a year earlier.