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Sales inch up at Kroger in second quarter

CEO Rodney McMullen cites “solid progress” with Restock Kroger

The Kroger Co. reported lackluster sales growth for its fiscal 2018 second quarter and, despite topping Wall Street’s earnings forecast, saw its share price drop nearly 10% shortly after the market opened.

For the quarter ended Aug. 18, sales totaled $27.87 billion, up 1% from $27.6 billion a year earlier, Kroger said Thursday. Revenue growth was 1.8% excluding fuel sales, the divestiture of the convenience store business and the merger with Home Chef. The Cincinnati-based supermarket giant said digital sales jumped 50% year over year.

Identical-store sales (excluding fuel) edged up 1.6% in the second quarter, compared with 0.9% growth in the 2017 quarter.

At the bottom line, second-quarter net income came in at $508 million, or 62 cents per diluted share, compared with $353 million, or 39 cents per diluted share, a year ago. Kroger said the gain stems mainly from the increased market value of its investment in UK online grocer Ocado, in which it owns a 6% stake.

Adjusted net earnings were $336 million, or 41 cents per diluted share. Analysts, on average, had projected adjusted earnings per share of 37 cents, with estimates ranging from a low of 32 cents to a high of 45 cents, according to Thomson Reuters.

“We are only two quarters into our three-year Restock Kroger plan, and we are making solid progress. Kroger customers have more ways than ever to engage with us seamlessly through our recently launched Kroger Ship, expanded availability of Instacart, successful ClickList offering and selling Simple Truth in China through Alibaba's Tmall,” Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen (left) said in a statement.

“We feel good about our net earnings per diluted share and identical-sales results in the second quarter,” he added. “We expect our investments in space optimization during the first half of 2018 to become a tailwind late in the third quarter.”

For the fiscal 2018 first half, Kroger tallied sales of $65.4 billion, up 2.4% from $63.88 billion in the prior-year period. Identical-store sales (excluding fuel) rose 1.8%, compared with an 0.4% uptick a year earlier.

Net earnings for the first half were $2.53 billion, or $3.03 per diluted share, versus $656 million, or 71 cents per diluted share, a year ago.

Kroger noted that 2018 first-half adjusted EPS (diluted) was slightly ahead of expectations because of early strides made with Restock Kroger, its strategic plan to redefine the customer experience. The company said the progress included process changes that led to sustainable cost controls and higher-margin alternative revenue streams.

Looking ahead, Kroger raised its GAAP net earnings guidance for fiscal 2018 to between $3.88 and $4.03 per diluted share from its previous range of $3.64 to $3.79. The company said the change reflects the unrealized gain in Ocado shares, recorded in the second quarter.

Kroger confirmed its adjusted EPS (diluted) forecast of $2.00 to $2.15 for the full year. Wall Street’s consensus estimate is for adjusted EPS of $2.12, with projections running from a low of $2.05 to a high of $2.17, according to Thomson Reuters.

Meanwhile, Kroger projects identical sales (excluding fuel) to grow 2% to 2.5% in 2018. Capital expenditures — excluding mergers, acquisitions and purchases of leased facilities — are pegged at about $3 billion for the year.

“We are on track to generate the free cash flow and incremental FIFO operating profit that we committed to in Restock Kroger for 2018-2020, and to deliver on our long-term vision to serve America through food inspiration and uplift,” McMullen stated.

As of the second quarter’s close, Kroger operated 2,769 stores in 35 states under more than 20 banners, including Kroger, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith’s, King Soopers, Fry’s, QFC, City Market, Owen’s, Jay C, Pay Less, Baker’s, Gerbes, Harris Teeter, Pick ‘n Save, Copps, Metro Market, Mariano’s, Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less and Foods Co.

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