J.C. Penney shares plunged 17% on Friday after a report that the 117-year-old retailer has hired advisers to help restructure its debt in a bid to stave off bankruptcy.

Shares fell 18 cents to close at 90 cents. The stock had dipped as low as 88 cents earlier, or a decline of almost 19%, in the day. Since late 2018, the stock has traded below or slightly above $1 amid management turmoil at the company and a challenging retail environment.

In a statement, J.C. Penney said it "routinely" hires external advisers and that it has not hired advisers to prepare for a court restructuring or bankruptcy. "By working with some of the best firms in the industry, we are taking positive and proactive measures, as we have done in the past, to improve our capital structure and the long-term health of our balance sheet," it said.

It added that it has "no significant debt maturities coming due in the near term, and we continue to maintain a strong liquidity position."

J.C. Penney has hired advisers to restructure debt as a way to buy time in hopes of reviving its business, according to Reuters, which cited people familiar with the situation. The company, which employs about 95,000 people at more than 800 stores, has roughly $4 billion in debt that will mature in the coming years, and a restructuring could involve delaying those maturities, the report said.

Even before the report, the retailer was struggling in the face of increased competition from Amazon, which is grabbing a bigger share of shoppers' wallets, and discount retailers such as Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.

In October, J.C.Penney hired former Jo-Ann Stores CEO Jill Soltau as its new top executive, with the goal of injecting new energy into its struggling stores. So far, Soltau has been building her management team and refining the stores' inventory by getting rid of unprofitable items, according to Jeff Van Sinderen, an analyst at B. Riley FBR.

"Ultimately, for the turnaround to work, JCP needs to become sustainably relevant with the target consumer to a degree that enables the company to generate adequate cash flow to service/reduce its debt load over the longer term," he wrote in a May note following the company's first-quarter results.

J.C. Penney's restructuring efforts are in the early stages, according to Reuters, adding that the goal is to provide the retailer with more financial flexibility and to avoid a bankruptcy down the road. The company is considering raising additional cash, among other strategic options.

J.C. Penney is one of many retailers that have seen their fortunes fade as more consumers turned to ecommerce. Brick-and-mortar store closures around the U.S. already surpass the pace set in 2018, and could exceed 12,000 this year.

More than 7,000 retail locations have closed their doors this year, according to Coresight Research. Last year, roughly 5,900 stores closed and 3,300 opened.