JC Penney sales numbers up over the holidays

Two people are pictured walk near the entrance of the JCPenney store in the Wausau Center mall in Wausau, Wis., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.
Dan Young, AP

PLANO, Texas - U.S. retailer J.C. Penney is reporting a 3.1 percent rise in comparable-store sales during the critical nine-week holiday period. 

Company shares jumped 4 percent in premarket trading. 

Fourth-quarter sales at stores open at least a year climbed about 2 percent, excluding the 53rd week of 2012. 

It was the first time since the second quarter of 2011 that the struggling department store has posted such a large increase. 

Same-store sales are a key gauge of a retailer's health because it excludes the volatility associated with stores recently opened or closed. 

J.C. Penney Co., based in Plano, Texas, ended 2013 with more than $2 billion in total available liquidity. Industry watchers are paying close attention to that number as the retailer tries to turn itself around.