Apparently, the view of 99 Cents Only Stores
What started as a review of the books by a new accountant back in 2005 blossomed into a series of delays in its quarterly reports, then its annual report, and now even its review of inventories and stock-option backdating. Although it finally submitted its 2005 quarterly reports, 99 Cents Only has failed to file its financial statements for the full year and all of 2006. Instead, investors have been treated to a series of "preliminary" reports for the past two years.
Most recently, 99 Cents Only reported that its "preliminary" third-quarter results for 2007 improved over last year's similarly tenuous numbers. Net sales rose more than 8%, as comps increased 1.9% for the quarter. While that should lead to an improved bottom line, with earnings growing from $0.10 to $0.12 per share, a portion of the growth stemmed from lower inventory expenses. Since the company overcompensated in the past, it's now realigning its reserves, seemingly improving the bottom line.
Even at first glance, this fiscal year is shaping up to be worse than the prior one, which was also worse than the year before it. Comparisons are a little tricky, because the company hasn't filed any financial statements, and it's adjusted some numbers in prior quarters. In addition, 99 Cents Only doesn't always report the same information each time. So while sales for the nine months ending in December seem like they're up 7% to $826.8 million, profits seem lower, at $0.13 per share compared to the prior year's $0.19.
Last year, 99 Cents Only reported net income of $12.4 million for the nine-month period, down from $17.6 million the year before. This year, it only reported the per-share figures, not the dollar amount.
99 Cents Only Stores is one of a number of discount merchandise stores that purport to sell products for a dollar or less. Unlike most of its competitors, all of 99 Cents' merchandise is priced at less than a buck. Dollar General
Lower price points will attract a different kind of shopper. For example, you can buy electronics equipment at Family Dollar that you won't find at 99 Cents Only. Yet the "thrill of the hunt," as Dollar Tree calls it, still entices people to shop in these discount stores, which often feature off-brand or similarly packaged, differently named products. Fellow Fool Alyce Lomax described the serendipitous nature of shopping at Dollar Tree.
99 Cents Only promises to resolve its accounting mess by March. Meanwhile, the stock has recovered from last year's lows; at present, it's even posting new 52-week highs. It latest results, though only preliminary, would give it trailing earnings of around $0.14 per share. While that would make the stock seem grossly overvalued right now, the market appears to expect good things to come.
Since the company does update its results as its review progresses and new information becomes available, adjustments are sure to change those figures. That's why I wouldn't put my money, whether it was $0.99 or $99, into this stock until it straightens out its books. Without more clarity, it's tough to tell whether you're getting a deal or a dog.
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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. Dollar Tree is a former Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.