BJ's Wholesale Club 4Q earnings fall on expense

AP News
Posted: Mar 02, 2011 10:35 AM
BJ's Wholesale Club 4Q earnings fall on expense

BJ's Wholesale Club Inc.'s fiscal fourth quarter was dragged down by expenses but its adjusted results beat expectations, sending its shares higher Wednesday.

The wholesale club operator said it saw more shoppers as its membership grew and it took business from other retailers. The company also forecast first-quarter results above expectations.

"This year, with rising costs ... starting to take effect at retail, our promise of quality and value is especially relevant," BJ's CEO Laura Sen said.

The company, based in Westborough, Mass., reported net income of $10.2 million, or 19 cents per share, for the quarter. That's down 81 percent from $54.5 million, or $1 per share, in the same period last year.

After taking out a $41.1 million expense related to the closing some stores, restructuring and asset impairment charges, earnings rose to 95 cents per share from 94 cents per share. That beat the 92 cents per share analysts surveyed by FactSet forecast.

BJ's said sales at clubs open at least a year rose 3.8 percent in the quarter. Excluding gasoline, merchandise sales at clubs open at least a year climbed 1.7 percent. This is considered a key measure of financial performance as it strips out the impact of recently opened or closed stores.

BJ's said food sales climbed 2 percent with strong sales of perishables like cheese, dairy, meat and produce. General merchandise sales rose 1 percent, with solid sales of items such as small appliances.

The company is the third-largest wholesale club operator in the country with 190 clubs in 15 states. It has performed well during the weak economy as shoppers looked to its stores for deal but has yet to expand far beyond its base in the Northeast.

The company has considered putting itself up for sale, which analysts say could help propel its growth.

BJ's said last month that it was considering several strategic alternatives, after months of buyout speculation. Company leaders did not provide an update on the process Wednesday.

However, the company highlighted its cost-cutting and improved operations, which are moves that could make it a more attractive acquisition.

BJ's announced in January that it was closing five stores and cutting nearly 500 jobs. It also said Chief Financial Officer Frank Forward would retire, a switch that has been under discussion since 2007. He will be replaced by Robert W. Eddy, BJ's director of finance.

The company said it expects shoppers to continue to turn to its stores for deals as costs for grain, corn, dairy and other commodity costs begin to filter down to higher prices in grocery stores. BJ's did not say if it expects to need to raise prices but said it benefited during the last spike in commodity costs because its wholesale format provided lower prices to attract shoppers.

The company projected earnings of $2.62 to $2.82 per share for the full fiscal year, while analysts expected $2.85 per share. It forecasts first-quarter earnings of 54 cents to 58 cents per share, above the 52 cents per share analysts forecast.

Shares of the company rose 55 cents to $48.66 in morning trading.


Sarah Skidmore reported from Portland, Ore. Michelle Chapman reported from New York.