Safeway (SWY) Q3 Results Stable – Sales Continue to Improve

October 13, 2011

safewaySafeway (SWY) results continued to strengthen modestly in the recent quarter. While store traffic trends remained challenged the core identical store sale result improved from +0.5% in Q2 to +1.5% in Q3. The CEO, Steven Burd, highlighted that this metric has improved for 6 quarters in a row. Gross Margin was flat on the quarter and there was very modest expansion of the operating margins based on solid expense control. Expenses were tightly managed in the areas of shrink (less spoilage and stolen goods), labor costs, and depreciation. Interest expense was down year-over-year as the borrowing rates declined 40 bps and the debt outstanding was reduced from $5.3B to $5.0B. Even with a higher tax rate (34%) Safeway was able to grow earnings per share by 15%.

Safeway shares have drifted to the high-end of the recent range and opened up 6% this morning. The shares gave up the gains during the conference call and traded off 2%. Quite an intra-day turnaround but the fundamentals appear pretty sound and the volatility today looks like some profit taking, not an inflection point in any of the fundamentals. Steven Burd mentioned that the promotional environment is pretty stable which is a positive for the industry which includes Wal-Mart, Kroger, and the dollar stores. An interesting note from the q&a session, Burd said that through his talks with the consumer packaged goods CEOs there really isn’t much if any growth in the US and Canada and almost all of the growth is coming from emerging markets. The consumer products company which is most geared towards emerging markets is Colgate (CL) and the US food company which is most geared towards emerging markets is Heinz (HNZ).

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