By Philip van Doorn
These companies all grew sales while expanding gross profit margins in a difficult environment as pandemic stimulus came to an end and interest rates increased
Every earnings season there are retail horror stories but also some companies that stand out in a competitive environment. Below is a list of 13 U.S. retailers that have put up good quarterly numbers.
This can serve as starting point for your own research if you are interested in considering stocks of retailers for investment.
Some industries are more difficult to define than others. We can count the retail industry as one of them, with a variety of product and service types and many companies with distribution models beyond traditional stores. Retailers also have varied fiscal reporting periods, so it might seem as if earnings season never ends. If we look at the largest 50 U.S. retailers by market capitalization, 40 had reported for fiscal quarters ended Feb. 3 or later through May 26, according to data provided by FactSet.
Coverage of retailers' quarterly results typically focuses on comparable-store sales, or same-store sales. Standouts this earnings season have included Walmart Inc(WMT), Costco Wholesale Corp(COST), and BJ's Wholesale Club Holdings Inc(BJ), which all reported solid increases in comparable-store sales from the year-earlier quarter.
Other retailers with significant declines in comparable-store sales included Home Depot Inc(HD), Lowe's Cos. Inc(LOW), CarMax Inc(KMX) and AutoNation Inc(AN). Some of these declines can be attributed to a reversal of sales growth during the year-earlier periods that were boosted by fiscal stimulus and very low interest rates during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Federal Reserve only began raising interest rates in March 2022.
"After a three-year period of unprecedented growth for our sector, during which we grew sales by over $47 billion, we expected that fiscal 2023 would be a year of moderation for the home improvement market," Home Depot CEO Ted Decker said in the company's earnings press release on May 16.
A screen of retailers' stocks
For our screen of the 40 largest U.S. retailers by market cap that had reported for fiscal quarters ending Feb. 3 or later through May 26, we looked at sales and profit margins to narrow the list to 13 companies showing good operating trends.
We didn't compare results to consensus estimates and we didn't screen for comparable-store sales because this data isn't available for all the companies. But we do show changes in comparable-store sales if the data are available from FactSet or available in some form in the companies' filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Here are the 13 U.S. retailers that passed the screen with rising quarterly revenue from a year earlier and improved gross profit margins. They are sorted by increases in sales:
Company Ticker Increase in quarterly sales from year-earlier quarter Gross margin Gross margin -- year-earlier quarter Operating margin Operating margin -- year-earlier quarter Grocery Outlet Holding Corp. GO 16.1% 31.13% 27.98% 5.54% 4.62% Burlington Stores Inc. BURL 10.7% 39.06% 37.65% 7.15% 6.08% Tractor Supply Co. TSCO 9.1% 32.51% 32.37% 10.36% 10.65% Floor & Decor Holdings Inc. Class A FND 9.1% 37.68% 36.30% 13.36% 13.47% Urban Outfitters Inc. URBN 5.9% 33.33% 30.73% 13.12% 11.34% AutoZone Inc. AZO 5.8% 52.47% 51.91% 23.83% 22.97% Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. SFM 5.6% 35.77% 35.34% 11.27% 11.02% BJ's Wholesale Club Holdings Inc. BJ 5.0% 18.63% 17.58% 5.18% 4.67% Tapestry Inc. TPR 5.0% 72.92% 69.92% 17.93% 15.60% Ross Stores Inc. ROST 3.7% 26.74% 26.23% 12.35% 12.91% TJX Cos. Inc. TJX 3.3% 29.02% 27.16% 11.94% 10.94% Costco Wholesale Corp. COST 2.0% 12.07% 11.87% N/A 4.42% Target Corp. TGT 0.6% 25.09% 24.27% 7.88% 8.14% Source: FactSet
Click on the tickers for more about each company.
Click here for Tomi Kilgore's detailed guide to the wealth of information for free on the MarketWatch quote page.
A company's gross margin is its net sales, less the cost of goods or services sold, divided by sales. Net sales are sales minus returns and discounts, such as coupons. The cost of goods or services sold includes the actual costs for making the items or providing the services, including labor. It is a useful measurement of pricing power, and a combination of an expanding gross margin and increasing sales is a good sign.
The table also includes operating margins, which are earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) divided by sales. This information won't be available for Costco for the most recent quarter until the company files its 10-Q report with the SEC.
Now let's look at the trend for year-over-year changes in comparable-store sales for the group:
Company Ticker Comparable store sales change Comparable store sales change -- previous quarter Comparable store sales change -- year-earlier quarter Grocery Outlet Holding Corp. GO 12.1% 15.1% 5.2% Burlington Stores Inc. BURL 4.0% -2.0% -18.0% Tractor Supply Co. TSCO 2.1% 8.6% 5.2% Floor & Decor Holdings Inc. Class A FND -3.3% 2.5% 14.3% Urban Outfitters Inc. URBN 5.0% 3.0% 10.9% AutoZone Inc. AZO 1.9% 5.3% 2.6% Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. SFM 3.1% 2.9% 1.6% BJ's Wholesale Club Holdings Inc. BJ 5.7% 8.7% 4.1% Tapestry Inc. TPR N/A N/A N/A Ross Stores Inc. ROST 1.0% 1.0% -7.0% TJX Cos. Inc. TJX 3.0% 4.0% 0.0% Costco Wholesale Corp. COST 3.5% 7.0% 11.0% Target Corp. TGT 0.0% 0.7% 3.3% Source: FactSet
Tapestry Inc. (TPR) owns several luxury brands, including Coach, Kate Spade New York and Stuart Weitzman. Changes in comparable-store sales aren't available for these periods because the company doesn't believe the figures will be meaningful, because of Covid-19-related disruptions during prior periods, according to its filings.
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