Costco, BJ's Wholesale post strong February sales

RetailReuters

By Jessica Wohl

CHICAGO (Reuters) - February sales at Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O> and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc <BJ.N> surpassed Wall Street's expectations, driven by higher gasoline prices and shoppers' focus on bargains.

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BJ's, which is considering selling the company, also reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit, while Costco's profit met Wall Street's expectations.

Costco, the top U.S. warehouse club operator, said February sales at stores open at least a year rose 8 percent, while analysts were looking for a 7 percent increase, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Smaller competitor BJ's said its February same-store sales rose 5.5 percent. Analysts were expecting a 3.5 percent gain.

Costco, BJ's and Wal-Mart Stores Inc's <WMT.N> Sam's Club experience an increase in sales when the price of gasoline, which some stores sell on-site, rises. The chains sell everything from computers and televisions to bulk packages of avocados, juice and diapers, in warehouse-style stores at which members pay an annual fee to shop.

"Costco remains a top pick" but there may not be enough in its report to move its shares higher on Wednesday, and a modest retreat from Tuesday's closing price of $73.66 is possible, JP Morgan analyst Charles Grom said in a note to clients.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on BJ's potential sale, which "sort of overrides the fundamentals at least for the near term," said Walter Stackow, senior research analyst at Manning & Napier, which has held BJ's shares for nearly three years.

Stackow expects a buyer would be a private equity firm or consortium, not a grocer or other strategic player.

SALES RISE

Costco earned $348 million, or 79 cents per share, in its fiscal second quarter that ended on February 13, up from $299 million, or 67 cents per share, a year earlier. The profit met analysts expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Costco's quarterly sales rose 11 percent to $20.45 billion, excluding membership fees, aided by the addition of sales from its Mexican joint venture. Membership fees rose about 10 percent to $426 million. Second-quarter same-store sales rose 7 percent, including fuel.

BJ's, which opened its doors in 1984, has most of its 190 locations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States -- areas battered by a series of storms during the quarter.

It earned $10.2 million, or 19 cents per share, in the fiscal fourth quarter that ended on January 29, sharply below a profit of $54.5 million, or $1.00 per share, a year earlier.

BJ's quarterly sales rose 7.4 percent to $2.9 billion. As the company said last month, same-store sales rose 3.8 percent and gained 1.7 percent, excluding sales of gasoline.

At BJ's, beauty products and food were among the best sellers last month. Sales of cigarettes, computer equipment, televisions, baby food and diapers were down from a year earlier.

Last week, Wal-Mart said fourth-quarter sales at Sam's Club rose 4.5 percent, or 2.7 percent excluding fuel. Sam's Club expects same-store sales to rise 1 percent to 3 percent this quarter, excluding fuel.

BJ's forecast first-quarter earnings of $29.5 million to $31.5 million, or 54 cents to 58 cents per share, and fiscal- year earnings of $144 million to $154 million, or $2.62 to $2.82 per share.

Costco said that it plans to open 15 or 16 new warehouses, including one relocation and one reopening, before its fiscal year ends on August 28.

(Additional reporting by Isheeta Sanghi in Bangalore; Editing by Dan Lalor and Maureen Bavdek)