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VOL. 132 | NO. 43 | Wednesday, March 1, 2017

AutoZone Reports ‘Challenging’ Q2 Results

By Andy Meek

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AutoZone’s results for the second quarter represented a bit of a slowdown for the auto parts and accessories retailer, with the company’s CEO using adjectives like “challenging” to describe the three-month period in which earnings and same-store sales were somewhat muted.

AutoZone reported weaker second-quarter results Tuesday, Feb. 28, with a slowdown in metrics like earnings per share and same-store sales.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

To be sure, the retailer, which opened 33 new stores in the U.S. during the quarter ended Feb. 11, remains an earnings powerhouse. Net sales for the second quarter were $2.3 billion, though that was up only 1.4 percent from the second quarter of fiscal 2016.

The profit picture was a little better, with net income for the quarter up 3.7 percent to $237.1 million compared to the year-ago period. But same-store sales – a key retail industry metric that backs out results from new store openings and closings – were essentially flat.

The double-digit earnings per share growth that AutoZone had enjoyed for years also was interrupted during the second quarter. Diluted earnings per share increased 8.8 percent to $8.08 per share from $7.43 per share in the year-ago quarter.

According to the company and some analysts, a delay in consumer income-tax refunds was a culprit behind the less-than-stellar quarter.

“Our sales performance in the last three weeks of our quarter was significantly challenged by well-publicized timing delays in IRS tax refunds, which negatively impacted our profitability for the quarter,” said AutoZone chairman, president and CEO Bill Rhodes.

Raymond James analyst Dan Wewer, who covers AutoZone, made the same point in a research note he published after AutoZone’s earnings presentation to analysts Tuesday, Feb. 28.

AutoZone, he noted, delivered “slightly worse-than-plan (earnings per share) results during F2Q17 as the tax refund delays appear to have negatively impacted same-store sales by at least 2 (percentage) points compared to our forecast of a 0.5 percent hit.” The good news is that comparable sales are rebounding in the third quarter, Wewer noted, and that the company’s commercial sales program is “beginning to accelerate.”

According to Wewer: “We estimate that same-store sales were tracking at +2 percent before the final three weeks of the quarter when the delay in tax refunds hit – negatively impacting same-store sales by approximately six percentage points during that time period. Fortunately, we believe a sales recovery has already taken place for AutoZone during the start of F3Q17.”

Among other results for AutoZone:

• New store openings during the quarter put AutoZone’s total store count as of Feb. 11 at 5,872.

• The company also continued its share buyback program. AutoZone bought back 256,000 shares of its common stock for $198 million during the second quarter, and it had $585 million remaining under its current share repurchase authorization at the end of the quarter.

According to Wewer, AutoZone’s commercial sales grew 7.2 percent during the quarter. “Notably, AutoZone is beginning to show signs of generating a payback from its new commercial sales initiatives particularly through improved associate training.”

Operating expenses, as a percentage of sales, were 35.9 percent, compared to 35.8 percent during the same period in 2016. The company said operating expenses, as a percentage of sales, were higher than last year due to higher domestic store payroll and offset in part by lower incentive compensation.

PROPERTY SALES 21 82 6,474
MORTGAGES 7 53 4,088
BUILDING PERMITS 240 353 15,714
BANKRUPTCIES 38 58 3,328