Costco’s Strong Sales and Membership Fees Fail to Excite Investors

Michael Teague  |

On a day during which stocks ended trading on a positive note, investor reaction to Costco’s (COST) earnings report was lukewarm, despite some very encouraging numbers.

For the fiscal third quarter, the popular wholesale outlet earned $459 million, or $1.04 per share on revenue of $24.08 billion, compared to the prior year period during which it netted $386 million, or $0.88 per share on revenue of $22.3 billion. Analyst predictions had put earnings at $1.02 per share, with revenue at $24.2 billion.

Despite only a slight beat on earnings, a closer look at Costco’s performance for the previous quarter reveals that the company, who receives over two-thirds of its revenue from membership fees, saw that number increase to $531 million, from $475 million a year before, contributing to a nearly 8 percent increase in total revenue.

Meanwhile, in the key retail metric of same-store sales, or locations open for longer than one year, Costco saw 6 percent growth in sales domestically, and 4 percent abroad. When excluding gas price and currency fluctuations, overall same-store sales growth for the quarter rises to 7 percent.

The company currently runs 667 locations throughout North America, the UK, Korea, Taiwan, and Australia. The company’s impressive consistency in same-store sales growth propelled operating margin to its highest level, 3 percent, since 2006.

The real meat of the report is undoubtedly the nearly 12 percent increase in membership fees. The company’s strategy of offering the cheapest products possible while making the bulk of its profits from membership fees has served it well so far, and especially in 2013.

Over the last six months, the company’s stock has risen over 43 percent to its current price of $111.88, despite Thursday’s nearly 1 percent slip.

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