AutoZone's (NYSE:AZO) first-quarter profits were up an encouraging 14%. That's not only a pleasant number, it's also consistent -- last year's Q1 saw a rise of 15%.
In this clip, The Motley Fool's Chris Hill and Bill Barker give their take on how the company's management and its strategies -- particularly in regard to its stock -- are contributing to this robust and sustained performance.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Dec. 8, 2015.
Chris Hill: Let's start with AutoZone, though. First-quarter profits up 14%. Same-store sales up 3.5%. And a year ago, they were putting up quarterly profits at 15% and comps of more than 4%, so these are good numbers on top of a year-ago good numbers. This thing's a machine.
Bill Barker: Can we just roll whatever I said last quarter? Because we talked about it a while ago. I love this company. We have it in one of the funds. It does everything right every quarter, more or less. Same-store sales up 3% or 4%, they open a few more stores, so total sales are up 8%-9%, I'm guessing, because I don't have that data in front of me.
But they opened enough stores that they grow faster than sales, then they improve their margins, so net income usually comes in sort of low double digits, and then they buy back shares, so you get to mid-teens, 14% earnings to share growth, and they just do it over and over and over again. So a little quiz: Do you know what percentage of their shares they've bought back since 1998?
Hill: Uh ...
Barker: You don't.
Hill: I don't.
Barker: Eighty percent. Eighty percent of their shares. So just, every year, they fight back about 6% or 10% of their shares. And that compounds tremendously. And it takes the pressure off the company to grow store count too fast. They grow shareholder value. They're not solely focused on, "Let's have the biggest company we can have," which you would do by retaining your earnings and making acquisitions and doing things like that. Instead, they're focused on shareholder returns.
Hill: This is one of those stocks that I think, particularly for anyone who is just starting out in investing, that gives you sticker shock, because they haven't split their shares in over 20 years. So, right now, shares of AutoZone are trading just below $800 a share. So you look at that, and you go, "Well, gosh, if I've got $800 burning a hole in my pocket, I can buy one share." And let's face it, that's not fun.
But I think that's to their advantage, and I think that's to the advantage of long-term shareholders, because they think, "Yeah, it's not fun to own one or a couple shares of stock. It's not the sexiest business in the world." But to your point, they've got the smart, long-standing management, and they're just delivering year after year.
Barker: Yeah. They're the biggest purchaser of their shares, having bought 80% of the number of shares back over the past decade and a half. It behooves them to have a stock price which maybe takes a few marginal buyers out. That allows them to buy back more. It's hard to argue that they're buying back at a great price right now. But they buy back all the time. So they're gonna have some high prices some of the time; they're gonna have better prices some of the time. Right now, there's a lot of enthusiasm priced, again, into the stock, as it seems like there always is, because it doesn't give you many bargain opportunities.