The ruckus that surrounds just about any earnings release from Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Costco
Therein lies the problem. Wall Street isn't happy with consistent annual performance. What the folks on the Street want is a consistent quarterly performance that they can set their collective watches to. Missing a quarterly mark by a penny because of lower margins on gasoline sales is unacceptable to them and triggers the question: Can't management do something to "manage" the gasoline sales better?
Costco's general attitude toward such requests is indifference. Not because Costco management isn't concerned with the operations of the warehouse clubs, but because the company is focused on the long-term results of the warehouses, and the primary fuction of the gasoline sales is to bring members into the clubs on a regular basis. If it means that the profitability of gas sales ebbs and flows a little bit, that's OK in management's view. That's an attitude that warms this Fool's heart, and it's one that I wish I saw more at other companies.
Costco's actual results for the quarter were, as usual, very impressive. Sales were up 10% for the quarter, and comparable-store sales -- at warehouses open for at least one year -- were also strong, posting a 7% increase. Save for another slight impact from gasoline, most of this growth flowed through to the bottom line, with net income up 6%.
The balance sheet remains strong, too, with $4 billion in cash and approximately $700 million in debt. But perhaps most impressive is the accounts-payable balance that exceeds inventory. On the surface, that may seem trivial, but Costco's rapid inventory turnover allows the company to convert its inventory into cash faster than competitors BJ'sWholesale
But for this Fool, the most interesting part of this quarter's earnings release and conference call involves Picasso. In a move that I would expect from a number of online retailers, but not Costco, the company is selling a $130,000 Picasso on its website. That's Pablo Picasso the Spanish artist, not John "Picasso" Smith your local neighborhood street painter. Costco has already sold a couple of Picassos for over $40,000 each, and even excluding these big-ticket items, the average purchase on its profitable website operations is over $400. Amazing.
The only problem for investors interested in Costco is price. At the moment, shares are a bit dear, but given the ongoing tension between Wall Street and the company, a bargain is bound to present itself soon enough. It's also worth noting that the company has a small but rapidly rising dividend, offering that rare opportunity for strong income growth and eventual share growth all in one package.
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