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Safeway’s EPS above analyst expectations

BY Michael Johnsen

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway surprised analysts Thursday morning with fourth-quarter earnings per share of 62 cents, well above a consensus of 57 cents among analysts.

Total sales were up 0.9% to $12.8 billion in the fourth quarter. Higher fuel sales and an increase in the Canadian exchange rate were offset by reduced sales due to store closures and a 0.8% decline in identical-store sales, excluding fuel, the grocer reported. Same-store sales, excluding fuel, declined 0.5%. Fuel sales rose 23%.

Share value on the NYSE was up 14 cents in mid-day trading to $22.19.

"We are pleased with the improving trends in sales in 2010, driven by our price reductions, reinvigorated private-label brands and targeted marketing,” stated Safeway chairman, president and CEO Steve Burd. “All of our trends are improving, and those trends are continuing into the first quarter," he told analysts Thursday morning. “Our sales improvements are coming from our best customers — who shop more often,” Burd said. That suggested customer retention is on the rise, he added.

Identical-store sales improved each quarter and improved shrink control was a fourth-quarter highlight, Burd said. “We think we did a very good job this year of managing cost but it was hidden from view by deflation,” he said. Burd projected price inflation of more than 1% going forward, and wouldn’t be surprised if inflation eclipsed 2%. Right now, he said, virtually all retailers are passing those price increases along to the consumer.

Safeway plans to issue a press release announcing earnings guidance for March 8.

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Consumers get a peek of what’s in the card aisle at AmericanGreetings.com

BY Allison Cerra

CLEVELAND — Greeting card enthusiasts that want to know what’s new in the card aisles before hitting the stores now can see the latest innovations online, thanks to a new page on American Greetings’ website.

AmericanGreetings.com‘s new page now features the latest product introductions, a special downloadable coupon and a store locator so consumers instantly can find retailers in their area.

"We have always been proud to offer our consumers the very best greetings, whether online or at retail. And with our category continuing to grow, we want to be sure we are making it easy for shoppers to always find the perfect card," said Sally Schriner, president of American Greetings Interactive. "Now, whether someone wants to send an e-card or find out what’s new in the nearest card aisle, they can do it all in one convenient location."

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Walmart taps Facebook users to help fight hunger

BY Allison Cerra

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart said it will present more than $1.5 million to nonprofits in six U.S. communities, thanks to Facebook users’ help with the retailer’s commitment to fight hunger through 2015.

Walmart’s Fighting Hunger Together campaign called on Facebook users to go to Walmart.com/FightHunger and "like" one of the 100 hungriest communities in the United States, as ranked by the Food Research and Action Center. More than 10 million votes were cast during the campaign, which ran from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31, 2010.

Community organizations in Salt Lake City; Fresno, Calif.; Columbia, S.C.; Ogden, Utah; Charleston, S.C.; and Bakersfield, Calif., will use the funds to provide more than 11 million meals to families in need.

The Facebook campaign is part of Walmart’s $2 billion commitment to help fight hunger through 2015.

"When you look at the sheer number of people affected by hunger in our nation, the issue seems insurmountable. But, if everyone gets involved and we work together, we can overcome it," said Margaret McKenna, president of the Walmart Foundation. "Our Facebook campaign is a single example of the success we can achieve when corporate, community and nonprofit entities come together and work with millions of Americans toward the common goal of ending hunger in this country."

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