Dollar General Earnings Due Tuesday; Dollar Stores’ Last Hurrah?

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The last, and largest, of the discount variety stores reports second quarter earnings tomorrow. Dollar General Corp. (DG) is expected to post earnings per share (EPS) of $0.74 on revenues of $4.36 billion. That is an EPS improvement of 6.8% and a revenue increase of year-over-year more than 10% year-over-year.

Dollar General’s share price is up less than 6% in the past 12 months, but since the beginning of the year shares have risen more than 22%. And even then, Dollar General trails Dollar Tree Inc. (DLTR) in share price growth since January 1. Dollar Tree stock is up 30%.

Big Lots Inc. (BIG) reported earnings last Thursday night, turning in adjusted EPS of $0.31 on revenue of $1.23 billion, beating the consensus EPS estimate but slightly low on revenue. Big Lots lowered its full-year earnings and revenue guidance. Third-quarter guidance was lowered from an expected EPS loss of $0.01 to a loss of $0.05 to $0.13 and same-store sales to be flat to down 2% as the stores build inventory for the holiday season. Still, the stock price rose 2.25% on Friday.

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Dollar Tree reported second-quarter earnings a week ahead of Big Lots, and the company’s stock price jumped about 2.5% after the store raised the low end of its outlook for full-year earnings and revenues.

Family Dollar Stores Inc. (FDO) ended its fourth quarter and 2013 fiscal year on August 30 and will report results on September 30. Analysts expect quarterly EPS of $0.84 and full-year EPS of $3.78, up 12% over the fourth quarter a year ago and about 3.7% over last year’s fiscal year earnings. Family Dollar’s share price performance has been weaker than its peers, up just 12% year to date. The stock was downgraded by one analyst on valuation, and the company has said that discretionary purchases have been pressured.

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Once these stocks were all considered to be growth plays, and to some extent they still are. But only Big Lots and Family Dollar have posted 12-month share price gains of more than 10%.

Over the past five years, Dollar Tree stock has risen more than 220%, while Dollar General and Family Dollar are up about 140%. Big Lots is up 39%, and at its peak in the past five years was up just 80%. In fact, Big Lots’ share-price growth over five years is only slightly better than the share-price growth for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT). That is not the profile of a growth stock.

Growth spurts, not sustained growth of more than 10% a year, seems to be where share prices are headed in this group. When consumer sentiment is positive, these stores simply do less well -- and consumer confidence has been rising slowly. Whether that rise in sentiment continues remains to be seen.

See also: America's Fastest-Growing Retailers

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