By Matthew Boyle / Bloomberg
Costco is reinforcing Wall Street’s sentiment that the big-box retailer is equipped to thrive in an e-commerce era.
The company’s shares rose in early trading after first-quarter earnings beat analysts’ estimates. Profit is only part of the story, though: Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said he was pleased that membership renewal rates remained steady after a warning last quarter that they could drop. Investors have keyed on the metric as a barometer of consumers’ enthusiasm for the brand.
Costco’s treasure-hunt shopping experience has so far proven resilient in the face of heightened competition from both online and brick-and-mortar peers. Comparable-store U.S. sales have risen for 14 straight months, and the company has bulked up its online operations with more products and expanded same-day grocery delivery. That’s assuaged the fears of some investors that Amazon’s encroachment into categories like food, apparel and beauty products could siphon off customers.
“Overall, results were solid with very strong sales numbers and good margins,” Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough said in a note. “We were also positive that membership renewals seem to have stabilized.”
Net income was $1.45 a share in the period ended Nov. 26, according to a statement late Thursday. Excluding a 9-cent-a-share gain from a tax benefit, profit was $1.36 a share. Analysts projected $1.34, the average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Membership renewal rates for the U.S. and Canada held at 90 percent, while gross margins were flat when excluding the impact of fuel deflation. Some analysts had predicted lower margins.
Analysts were also encouraged by Costco’s recent moves to expand its online capabilities. The retailer had been reluctant to allow customers to buy products online and pick them up in store — a practice commonly known as click-and-collect — but it’s now offering that for laptops and jewelry. Galanti said more than half of customers who use the service also grab other items in the store.
“There are lots of incremental and highly profitable low-hanging fruit opportunities they have not moved on yet, and management now seems compelled to take advantage of them in their own way,” Bill Dreher, an analyst at Susquehanna International Group, said in a note.
The company previously disclosed sales for the period, which included an e-commerce gain of 44 percent.
The shares rose as much as 3.5 percent to $192.99 in early trading. The stock had gained almost 17 percent this year through Thursday’s close.