The TJX Companies (TJX 0.34%) is just one year away from a major business milestone. The off-price retailer recently boosted its dividend following a surprisingly strong finish to the fiscal 2019 year. That increase marked its 24th consecutive annual payout hike, just one shy of qualification for membership in the exclusive club of Dividend Aristocrats.
In a conference call with investors following the company's fourth-quarter earnings report, CEO Ernie Herrman and his team discussed their wider cash distribution plans while explaining why they're optimistic about the company's long-term growth outlook. Let's look at some highlights from that call.
Winning market share
"Clearly, we gave consumers a compelling reason to shop us and make exciting purchases throughout the holiday season and beyond," Herrman said.
Management celebrated the fact that TJX won market share and finished the year with its strongest quarterly sales performance. Comparable-store sales jumped 6% compared with less than 3% at Walmart and around 2% for Target. That performance gap would be even wider if you add in the retailer's e-commerce gains, which aren't included in its reported comps metric but are included in those reported by its peers.
Overall, TJX seems to have a good grasp on what apparel and home goods shoppers want, and it is winning more business as competing retailers shrink their store bases. Annual sales just crested $40 billion, executives pointed out, or $10 billion higher over just the past four years.
"Our business continues to generate excellent cash flows and strong financial returns," CFO Scott Goldenberg said.
The financial trends all pointed in the right direction, with each of the retailer's four sales divisions outperforming the profit plan. Overall, gross profit margin held steady, and adjusted operating income edged higher.
Cash flow landed at $2.8 billion for the year, and management was happy to report market-leading return on invested capital of over 40%. These wins supported nearly $3 billion of capital return spending split almost evenly into stock repurchases and dividend payments.
More growth ahead
Herrman said: "The consistency and the flexibility of our off-price retail model through both strong and weak retail cycles throughout our history underscore our confidence. We see plenty of merchandise available to support our continued growth."
Management predicted that sales will rise by between 2% and 3% this year to set another record. Looking further out, they see several factors suggesting that TJX Companies can continue growing and winning market share well into the future. These positive proof points include rising customer traffic, an expanding store base, and the popularity of its stores among younger shoppers who are hunting for bargains.
Investors already have a good idea about how those assets can translate into remarkably stable sales growth given the wider swings in the retailing industry. TJX has posted 22 consecutive quarters of positive customer traffic, but management is even more proud of the fact that comps have increased in each of the last 24 years, a time frame that includes several highly disruptive periods in the industry.