Is AutoZone Speeding Up?

Vehicle parts and accessories chain AutoZone (NYSE: AZO  ) saw its profits jump 15% for its fiscal fourth quarter, but the market wanted more. On an adjusted basis, sales nudged forward slightly, and came in below both analyst and internal expectations. In the long run, though, AutoZone continues to grow at an impressive clip amid tepid consumer spending habits. This quarter marks the 28th consecutive quarter of earnings-per-share growth, and management appears bullish on the prospects for the run to continue. Despite its miss, investors seem to be on the side of management, with shares trending up a little more than 1% for the day. With a steady run over the past couple of years, is AutoZone speeding up or slowing down?

Chugging along
The nation's largest auto parts business brought in $10.42 per share based on $371.2 million in net income, according to GAAP numbers. However, excluding one-time items, EPS was less impressive -- $9.76 per share. This is only slightly up from the same quarter last year, when AutoZone earned $8.46 per share. Wall Street was expecting closer to the unadjusted number at $10.34 per share.

Domestic same-store sales figures (up 1% from the year-ago quarter) came in under management's expectations, according to CEO Bill Rhodes.

This quarter concluded a stable, if mild, fiscal year for AutoZone. For the year, sales grew 6.3% to $9.1 billion. Net income gained nearly 10% to $1 billion.

As with many retailers in 2013, management is eager to put the year in the rearview mirror and turn its focus to a faster growing, more hospitable 2014. Management expects things to tick up on both a retail and commercial level in the coming year. Part of the driving factor for top-line sales growth are new locations that opened this year -- 69 in the United States, 21 in Mexico, and two in Brazil.

Overall, things look comfortable for AutoZone, which is actually a more bullish statement than it appears, considering the lackluster performance of nearly every retailer in the country amid poor spending habits and a wishy-washy economy.

Foot on the gas?
At less than 14 times forward earnings and an EV/EBITDA of 9.78, the market expects some decent growth from the company. Pep Boys trades cheaper on an EV/EBITDA basis, but lacks the margins, and profits, that AutoZone seems to have mastered.

The $15 billion AutoZone is a very well-covered, easily modeled company, and the stock price reflects this. While many retailers have taken unfair, macro-level punishment, AutoZone has powered through with few issues. The stock may continue to rise in conjunction with sales and profit growth, but for value hunters, there's no bargain here.

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