This has been a rough earnings season for many of the country's retailers, but Big Lots (NYSE:BIG) is coasting through the malaise. Shares of the superstore chain specializing in closeouts and overstocks soared 17% last week after posting better than expected quarterly results.
Big Lots scored $1.3 billion in net sales for the fiscal first quarter ending in April. The 3% year-over-year uptick was entirely the handiwork of a 3% uptick in comps. Gross margin held steady, but mastering operating costs helped Big Lots' operating profit clock in 19% ahead of the prior year.
It gets better. Aggressive share buybacks over the past year provided another big boost on a per-share basis. The retailer's adjusted profit from continuing operations of $0.82 a share was 34% ahead of the $0.61 a share it delivered a year earlier. It was also comfortably on top of its earlier guidance looking for adjusted earnings per share between $0.66 and $0.72.
Big Lots is thriving in this climate. This is the ninth quarter in a row that it has scored positive year-over-year comps, no easy feat with several retailers stalling lately. Big Lots is succeeding with big gains in soft home goods as well as its expanding space for furniture offerings.
Cyberspace is the new clearance bin
The Internet should be a big driver for Big Lots in the future. It launched its online store in late April, just as the fiscal quarter was drawing to a close. It's kicking things up with a nifty "buy, buy, buy" video that should appeal to throwback 'N Sync fans that can appreciate a good pun.
E-commerce has been a challenge for deep discounters, largely because shipping and fulfillment costs often eat into the proposed savings. Big Lots is taking it slow. It's currently offering just 3,000 items online.
Internet sales should grow slowly -- deal-seeking 'N Sync fans notwithstanding -- and Big Lots also is looking to roll out a private label credit card this quarter. Neither new offering should move the needle during the current quarter, but it may not take much of a boost to make a difference.
Big Lots is bumping its guidance higher for the entire fiscal 2017 year following its blowout quarter, but its outlook for the current quarter is cautious. It sees comps chiming in between flat and up 2%, stretching its streak to 10 consecutive quarters of positive comparable-store sales. The $0.42 a share to $0.47 a share it's targeting is comfortably ahead of the $0.41 a share it posted a year earlier, but Wall Street pros were already perched in the middle of that range. Then again, we saw how Big Lots blew through its earlier forecasts last time out.
The stock is reasonably priced at less than 15 times this fiscal year's projected earnings and 13 times next year's target. There are catalysts for top-line growth to begin accelerating, and net margins should continue to expand. Big Lots stock had a good week, but the pieces are in place for the good times to continue.