Are you sick of watching your grocery bill creep up year after year due to inflation? Don't fight it -- embrace it. Last time I wrote about supermarket chain Kroger (NYSE:KR) (and other retailers), I was wondering if it could continue to post positive identical-store gains beyond 40 straight quarters. Now with number 42 under its belt, Kroger is showing no signs of slowing. This can have major Foolish investors will to take a closer look at the national grocer.
Cleaning up on aisle 12
Kroger reported fiscal first-quarter results on June 19. Total sales increased 9.9% to $32.96 billion. Excluding fuel, sales rose an even better 11.4%. Identical-store sales popped 4.2% including fuel and 4.6% without fuel. Adjusted net earnings soared 15.8% to $557 million, or $1.09 per diluted share.
As mentioned above, it was the 42nd consecutive quarter of positive identical-store sales gains. In the earnings release, Rodney McMullen, CEO of Kroger, credited the company's associates and their ability to connect with the customers for the success. He and Kroger are calling for net earnings to grow between 12% and 15% this fiscal year while continuing to target long-term growth in its dividend.
In light of the results, the company raised guidance for adjusted earnings from a range of between $3.14 and $3.25 per share to a range of between $3.19 and $3.27 per share. It's nothing huge, but any rise in guidance is always welcomed.
Music to your ears
Whether you're an investor in Kroger or not, I think you'll appreciate something McMullen shared on the earnings conference call. If you follow retail stores and restaurants as much as I have, you'll have noticed the vast majority of them have been either complaining about the economic environment or -- if their results are great -- they will brag that they were able to report good numbers "despite" the challenging economy.
McMullen had something else to say. He stated:
From an economy and customer shopping behavior, we are seeing strong positive indicators in shopping behavior. Our customers have exhibited less cautious spending behavior, for example. Consistent with the rise in [the] Consumer Confidence Index in May, our own customer research tells us that more customers perceive the economy to be in recovery.
This, if true, has three implications. First, we all like when the economy is better. Most everybody feels better. That much is obvious. Second, it's easier to grow sales in retail stores, even supermarkets, when the economy is better. Sure, everybody has to eat, but if mom and dad are less
cautious they may put back the ramen noodles and spend a few more dollars on fish or steak. And third, less caution equals less price sensitivity and an easier time for supermarkets like Kroger to push higher-profit-margin products.
Cash and credit-ability
"Whether through our popular fuel rewards program, our Simple Truth offerings, or a more convenient shopping experience, Kroger is uniquely positioned to deliver on this promise in any economic environment. And against this backdrop and uneven economic recovery, our team's excellent first quarter performance stands out in even greater contrast."
Well, Kroger certainly has proven that it can stand out in any economy over the last 42 quarters, or more than 10 years. We've had all sorts of major and mini booms and busts in the economy during that time, yet the little Kroger that could kept right on chugging along. While I doubt Kroger will make you rich, its stable and consistent top- and bottom-line growth deserves a look by Fools for a relatively boring but safe and reliable long-term investment.