Costco (NASDAQ:COST) generally does not generate splashy headlines. Yes, there have been exceptions such as when the chain changed credit card providers and when it raised membership prices a little over a year ago.
But aside from that, the company generally just goes about its business. That's not a bad thing -- the warehouse club has shown steady increases in its most-important metrics -- but it does not make for a great story.
Because of Costco's lack of flashiness, sometimes investors overlook the brand. It's not the fresh, new thing, or the most innovative player in retail. Instead, the company is a steady winner that has stuck with a winning business model -- only tweaking it as needed.
Slow and steady wins the race
As you can see above, Costco's stock price over the past 10 years has headed steadily higher. Of course, there have been some drops -- in recent years that usually happens when the market assumes the company will now fall victim the to so-called retail apocalypse -- but the general trend over years has been decidedly up.
In fact, after an adjusted close of $50.48 on Sept. 17, 2008, shares had more than quadrupled in value to $232 as of market close on the same day in 2018. That compares favorably to Walmart, which had an adjusted closing price of $46.52 10 years ago and has slightly more than doubled, closing at $94.82 on Sept. 17, 2018. Costco also has a similar edge over Target, which rose from an adjusted close 10 years ago of $41.54, to $87.65 as of Sept. 17, 2018.
Costco shares may not offer the same upside as a technology company or the latest flavor of the moment, but for retail, the warehouse club's growth has been impressive. If you invested in the company 10 years ago, it very well could have been a millionaire-maker stock.
Is it still?
Costco has shown that it's not going to be disrupted by the internet. The company has added about 25 new clubs each year while steadily increasing its membership. It has also kept its renewal rate hovering around 90% (it was 90.1% in the United States and Canada to close the third quarter).
"In terms of number of members at Q3 end, in terms of total number of households, at the end of Q2, it stood at 50.4 million, and 12 weeks later at the end of Q3, [it now stands] at 50.9 million," CFO Richard Galanti said during the chain's Q3 earnings call. "Total cardholders, 92.2 million a quarter ago, 12 weeks ago, and at Q3 end, 93 million."
Sales are also up by a stunning 12.1% in Q3 year over year and they are up 12% to $95 billion through the first 35 weeks of the company's fiscal year. Traffic/shopping frequency also rose by 5.1% in Q3 and comparable-stores sales were up 10.2% while digital sales climbed by 36.8%.
Basically, you could argue that Costco has strengthened its position relative to other retailers in 2018. The chain is a clear success story and there's no reason that should stop. The warehouse club won't make you $1 million overnight, or even quickly. Its share price should, however, continue its steady march higher.