Could Costco Earnings Signal a Rise in Membership Fees?

Costco store
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST) reported second-quarter fiscal 2015 results before markets opened Thursday. The big-box club store posted quarterly diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.35 on revenue of $26.87 billion. In the same period a year ago, Costco reported EPS of $1.05 on revenue of $25.76 billion. Second-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $1.18 and $27.65 billion in revenue.

Same-store sales rose 4% in the United States during the quarter, were down by 2% in the rest of the world, and up by a combined 2%, including sales of gasoline. Excluding gasoline sales and currency translation effects, U.S. same-store sales rose 8%, international sales rose 8% and combined sales rose 8%.

Membership fee revenue rose from $550 million to $582 million year-over-year, and operating income rose by $153 million from $724 million to $877 million.

Merchandise costs rose by about 3.8%, and SG&A expenses were also higher by 5.5%.

Membership fee revenue remained flat sequentially. Because Costco’s net income is routinely very closely aligned with its membership fee revenue, it is vital for the company to either add new members or raise those fees.

Keeping costs under control is also crucial, and that helps explain the recent end of Costco’s exclusive deal with American Express. Costco undoubtedly wanted to pay lower swipe fees and American Express refused. The new deal with Citigroup and Visa that begins next year may be an opportunity for Costco to recruit new members.

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Net income for the quarter totaled $598 million, including a $57 million tax benefit ($0.13 per share) and a $14 million ($0.03 per share) tax charge. Even excluding the net $0.11 from Costco’s EPS, the total of $1.24 per share remains well above the consensus estimate.

The company did not publish any guidance, but consensus estimates for the company’s third quarter call for EPS of $1.17 on revenues of $26.84 billion. For the full 2015 fiscal year, EPS is expected to come in at $5.16 on revenues of $118.86 billion.

Shares traded up about 3.8% Thursday’s premarket at $152.00, having closed Tuesday night at $147.17, in a 52-week range of $110.36 to $156.85. Shares are up about 26% over the past 12 months and nearly 4% so far in 2015. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $151.00 before the latest results were announced.

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