Best Buy, Circuit City Diverge

The distance between the number one consumer electronic retailer and the number two lengthened today with the announcement of second-quarter results from both Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) and Circuit City (NYSE: CC  ) . While Best Buy added to its lead, Circuit City racked up more losses, thanks in part to weakness in its credit card business.

Best Buy's sales from continuing operations (excluding the Musicland sale) jumped 17% to $5.4 billion. Comparable store sales increased an impressive 7.5%. At Circuit City, on the other hand, sales dipped 3% to $2.16 billion, with comp sales off 5%.

The earnings picture for both companies presents an even greater contrast. Best Buy's income from continuing operations shot up 77% to $140 million. Earnings per share were $0.42 versus $0.24. Including gains and losses from discontinued operations, Best Buy earned $139 million, up from $62 million in the prior period.

Circuit City, meanwhile, lost $124.2 million, or $0.60 a share for the second quarter. That compares to an $11.2 million, or $0.05 a share, loss last year. A substantial chunk of the most recent loss is from markdowns in value of Circuit City's credit card operations. Excluding those charges, Circuit City lost $0.14 a share, worse than the anticipated $0.12 a share loss.

Circuit City has had its credit card unit up for sale since August, and says it's gotten several offers. More encouraging is the fact that the company expects to lose only $105 million after-tax on the disposition, as opposed to the $200 million it had originally forecast. $95 million of that loss was taken in the second quarter, meaning that most of the negative impact should be behind it now. Additionally, the company expects the sale to generate much more cash -- $295 million compared to $190 million -- than it previously thought.

Despite the positives of the eventual credit card sale, Circuit City still has some catching up to do. Remodeling and renovation efforts are still underway. Those moves will keep costing the company in both expenses and store disruptions, while Best Buy ticks along relatively unscathed. Given this, it's easy to understand why investors are willing to pay more for Best Buy. Until Circuit City shows sustained signs of strength, that's likely to continue being the case.


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