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Kroger 3Q earnings don’t disappoint as food retailer posts 36th consecutive same-store sales growth

BY Michael Johnsen

CINCINNATI — Kroger remained one of the few outperforming supermarket operators Thursday morning as the grocer exceeded analyst consensus adjusted earnings per diluted share by 3 cents with 46 cents per share. Actual reported net earnings were even higher — 60 cents per share — as Kroger benefitted from a settlement with Visa and MasterCard and from a reduction in the company’s obligation to fund the UFCW consolidated pension fund created in January. 

Kroger shares were up 3.4% to $25.90 in late morning trading. 

Looking out over the coming holiday and into 2013, the news surrounding the fiscal cliff does hang as a potential pall over future sales executives noted, but generally the economy has been slowly improving among upper-income customers, as evidenced by the "slow, gradual improvement" in identical-store sales. 

For the third quarter ended Nov. 3, Kroger posted same-store sales growth of 3.2%, not including fuel sales, marking the company’s 36th consecutive quarter of positive identical supermarket sales. 

Credit Suisse analyst Ed Kelly predicted that Kroger would be able to maintain identical store sales increases of 3.5% through 2013 in a research note published Wednesday. "Improved volume growth should offset less inflation and the generic wave," he suggested. "Management’s comments on Q4 trends will also be important, although IDs seem poised to reaccelerate in 2013, given the return of inflation and diminishing generic impact."

"The economy is slowly improving, but value customers are still struggling," David Dillon, Kroger chairman and CEO told analysts Thursday morning. "Overall consumer confidence is up, but it remains fragile," he said, pointing to the increased attention the media has currently placed around the "fiscal cliff." 

Among Kroger’s loyalty card household base, units per trip has been climbing, too. That’s an indicator that on one hand, Kroger is satisfying more shopper needs — and on the other hand, that consumers are increasing their supermarket budgets. 

Total sales, including fuel, increased 5.9% to $21.8 billion. Total sales, excluding fuel, increased 3.7%.

Kroger’s strong financial position has allowed the company to return more than $1.7 billion to shareholders through share buybacks and dividends over the last four quarters. During the third quarter, Kroger repurchased 14.5 million common shares for a total investment of $333 million, the company reported. 

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Kinney Drugs announces retirement of industry veteran Wuest

BY Antoinette Alexander

GOUVERNEUR, N.Y. — Regional player Kinney Drugs, which operates operates 95 stores in central and northern New York and Vermont, announced on Thursday that Jim Wuest, VP marketing, plans to retire at the end of the year.  
 


Wuest joined Kinney Drugs in 2006, and has been an active member of the executive team and an influential part of the company’s success over the years. He is an industry veteran whose contributions as VP marketing have been paramount to the advancement of Kinney’s marketing and merchandising strategies, the company stated.
 


“We are thankful for all the contributions that Jim has made to the evolution of our marketing and merchandising operations over the last several years,” said Bridget-Ann Hart, R.Ph., president of Kinney Healthcare Services. “It was an honor to have had Jim as a colleague, and we wish him all the best in his retirement.” 
 


On the heels of Wuest’s retirement, Rick Cognetti, VP merchandising, has been promoted to VP marketing and merchandising. In this expanded role, Cognetti will bring together the marketing and merchandising functions to enhance and support the company’s comprehensive business strategies.
 


Cognetti joined Kinney Drugs in 1994 as a store manager, and has progressed through various positions that have provided him with a wealth of retail experience and knowledge of all aspects of the chain drug store business. He will continue to report to Jim Spencer, COO of the drug stores.
 


Also upon Wuest’s retirement, Jennifer Whalen, director of marketing, will assume an expanded role in overseeing marketing initiatives and managing the day-to day operations. Cheri Taylor, director of merchandising, will also expand her current role to include management of Kinney’s merchandise presentation.  Whalen and Taylor will report to Cognetti.

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Target comps tumble 1% in November

BY Mike Troy

A worse than expected 1% decline in November same store sales indicates the holiday season is off to a slow start at Target. The 1% decline was substantially worse than the low single digit increase the company forecast at the start of the month when it reported a 2.4% increase for October that was toward the low end of guidance.

The November weakness suggests traffic trends may be deteriorating at Target, as the company blamed the decline on a decrease in comparable store transactions following that metric’s flat performance in October.

“November sales were below our expectations, reflecting weaker-than-planned sales performance in the first two weeks combined with stronger sales growth across all channels later in the month,” said Gregg Steinhafel, Target chairman, president and CEO. “Profitability for the month remained on plan, reflecting our efforts to balance thoughtful price investments in an intensely competitive environment with our continued focus on driving sales.”

Steinhafel sought to reassure investors disturbed by the November performance that the best is yet to come from the company, and indicated same-store sales for the five-week December reporting period would increase in the low single-digits.

“With the upcoming launch of the Target/Neiman Marcus Holiday Collection, our unique assortment of exclusive, affordable merchandise and the compelling benefits of 5% REDcard Rewards and our Holiday Price Match, we believe Target has the right plans in place to allow our guests to shop with confidence throughout the holiday season,” Steinhafel said.

As in prior months, Target’s strongest growth came in the food category, which produced a mid- single-digit increase in health and beauty, which experienced a low single-digit increase. However, the home and apparel categories both decreased in the low single-digit range, and hard lines dropped by mid- single-digits. The company’s performance was strongest in portions of the south, and softest in portions of the northeast.

The worse than expected comp figures come as Target is experiencing a modest uptick in delinquency rates in its credit card receivables portfolio. Target said the percentage of accounts 60 days past due in November was 2.7% and the 90 days past due total was 1.9%. Those figures hit lows for the year of 2.5% and 1.7%, respectively, this past summer. Even at the slightly higher amount, both metrics are half of what they were several years ago.

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