March 5, 2008 / 8:21 AM / in 10 years

Costco posts higher quarterly results

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O) posted higher quarterly profit on Wednesday, meeting Wall Street estimates, and the No. 1 U.S. warehouse club operator posted a bigger-than expected gain in February sales at its locations open at least a year.

Profit rose to $327.9 million, or 74 cents per share, for its fiscal second quarter ended February 17, compared with $249.5 million, or 54 cents per share, a year before.

Its year-ago results included a pretax charge of $84.4 million related in part to a stock options review.

Wall Street had, on average, forecast earnings of 74 cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

For February, its sales at warehouse clubs open at least a year, known as comparable store sales, rose 7 percent, helped by higher gasoline prices. Analysts, on average, were expecting a gain of 6 percent, according to 13 analysts polled by Reuters Estimates.

Customers pay an annual membership fee to shop in Costco’s warehouse clubs, which sell everything from discounted flat-panel televisions and diamond rings, to bulk-sized packages of toilet paper and soda. Costco also operates gasoline stations at many of its locations.

The company’s main rivals are Sam’s Club, owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), and BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc BJ.N.

    Warehouse clubs, like Costco, have been seen as a bright spot in the struggling U.S. retail sector as cash-strapped shoppers, worried about the weakening U.S. economy, have headed to the clubs in search of lower priced food and gasoline.

    Quarterly sales rose to $16.62 billion from $14.8 billion a year earlier, while membership fee revenue rose to $342.92 million from $307.32 million.

    Its quarterly comparable store sales rose 7 percent, with sales advancing 5 percent at its U.S. stores and 17 percent internationally.

    During the quarter, Costco said the average sales price for a gallon of gasoline was up 29 percent. Excluding the effect of gasoline, its U.S. comparable sales in the second quarter would have been up 3 percent, it said.

    Reporting by Nicole Maestri and Yinka Adegoke; editing by Rory Channing and Gerald E. McCormick

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