Is This the Death of Growth at Whole Foods?

Print Email

Whole Foods Market, Inc. (NASDAQ: WFM) released its fiscal-third quarter financial results after the markets closed Wednesday. The organic and natural foods grocer had $0.43 in earnings per share (EPS) on $3.63 billion in revenue versus consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters that call for $0.45 in EPS on $3.69 billion in revenue. The same period in the previous year had $0.41 in EPS on $3.38 billion.

The company gave guidance in terms of targets for the 2015 fiscal year. Whole Foods expects sales growth 9%, with comparable store sales in the low single digits, and return on invested capital (ROIC) over 14%. There are consensus estimates of $1.72 in EPS on $15.59 billion in revenue for the 2015 fiscal year.

With a share price decline of about 21% so far in 2015, analysts and investors are going to be looking for a big improvement over the prior quarter’s numbers. EPS came in right on the consensus estimate in the company’s second fiscal quarter, but missed revenue estimates. A company with Whole Foods’ history of an earnings multiple above 30 is going to get some poor reviews when that multiple falls into the mid- to low-20s.

It also doesn’t help that Whole Foods reported comparable store sales of 1.3%. In fact, that sounds more like a traditional grocery chain rather than a high-end chain like Whole Foods.

During this quarter, the company has paid $137 million in quarterly dividends to shareholders and repurchased $188 million of common stock.

Currently, Whole Foods has 424 stores, totaling roughly 16 million square feet, and expects to cross the 500-store mark in fiscal year 2017. Longer term, the company sees demand for 1,200 stores in the U.S. Note that Whole Foods sees a huge potential for demand but incrementally it only expects to build out about 40 stores a year.

Despite the weak performance, Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, said:

In this rapidly changing marketplace, we believe we are taking the necessary steps to position ourselves for the longer term. We remain focused on innovating and evolving to best serve our customers’ diverse purchasing preferences. From the unique experience of our Whole Foods Market stores, to our growing online channel for home delivery, to the exciting launch of our 365 by Whole Foods Market stores, we are making investments to extend our reach to both new and existing customers.

At the end of the fiscal third quarter the company had cash and all cash equivalents and securities of $691 million compared to $743 million at the end of fiscal 2014. Year to date, Whole Foods has produced $997 million in cash flow from operations and invested $679 million in capital expenditures, of which $411 million related to new stores.

ALSO READ: Was Facebook’s Earnings an Un-Like?

Shares of Whole Foods closed Wednesday down 0.3% at $40.81. In the after-hours trading session following the release, shares were down a sharp 10.2% at $36.66. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $47.88 and a 52-week trading range of $36.18 to $57.57.