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Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST - Analyst Report), one of the leading U.S. warehouse club operators, recently posted sales data for the four-week period ended July 29, 2012. However, unfavorable foreign currencies fluctuation remained a drag. Moreover, sales for the month were adversely impacted by deflation in gasoline prices.
After a 3% increase in June, Costco’s comparable-store sales for July climbed 5%, reflecting comparable sales growth of 7% at its U.S. locations. Comps at international outlets remained flat. In the prior-year period, the company delivered comparable-store sales growth of 10%.
For the 48-week period ended July 29, 2012, the company registered comparable-store sales growth of 7%, with U.S. sales rising by an equivalent percentage and international sales climbing 6%.
Excluding the effects of gasoline prices and foreign currency fluctuations, Costco’s comparable-store sales for July climbed 7%, with U.S. and international comparable sales increasing 8% and 7%, respectively. For the 48-week period, the company registered comparable-store sales growth of 6%, with U.S. sales rising 6% and international sales climbing 9%.
Total net sales for July jumped 8% to $7.25 billion from $6.74 billion in the prior-year period. For the 48-week period, sales increased 9% to $87.71 billion from $80.18 billion in the same period last year.
Costco continues to be a dominant retail wholesaler based on the breadth and quality of the merchandises it offers. The company’s strategy to sell products at heavily discounted prices has helped it to sustain growth amid beleaguered economic conditions, as cash-strapped customers continue to see Costco as a viable option for low-cost necessities. Having delivered consistent comparable-store sales growth, Costco is well positioned in the warehouse club industry.
A differentiated product range enables Costco to provide an upscale shopping experience to its members, resulting in market share gains and higher sales per square foot. Moreover, the company maintains a healthy membership renewal rate.
It also remains committed to opening new clubs in domestic and international markets. The company’s diversification strategy is a natural hedge against risks that may arise in specific markets.
However, Costco faces stiff competition from Target Corporation (TGT - Analyst Report) and Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT - Analyst Report), which follows a similar business model that pushes through high volumes of merchandise at low prices in membership-only warehouse clubs. Thus, aggressive pricing to gain market share and drive traffic amid stiff competition may dampen sales and margins.
Costco currently operates 605 warehouses, which include 438 in the United States and Puerto Rico, 82 in Canada, 32 in Mexico, 22 in the United Kingdom, 13 in Japan, 8 in Taiwan, 7 in Korea and 3 in Australia. The company intends to open three new warehouses before the end of fiscal 2012 on September 2, 2012.
Going by the pulse of the economy, we believe that budget-constrained consumers will remain prudent regarding their spending and look for discounts. Consequently, we could witness more competitive pricing, compelling products and innovative ways to attract shoppers.
Currently, we maintain our long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock. However, Costco holds a Zacks #2 Rank that translates into a short-term Buy rating.