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Earnings Scorecard: Whole Foods

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Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM) commenced fiscal 2012 with a bang, posting better-than-expected first-quarter 2012 results on the back of strong sales as shoppers flocked to the grocery chain.

The company has been gaining better market share compared to other supermarket chains. This inflicted a sense of confidence in management’s mind about the company’s performance in 2012, which was quite evident through an upbeat outlook.

In the paragraphs that follow, we cover the recent earnings announcement, subsequent estimate revisions by analysts as well as the Zacks Rank and long-term recommendation for the stock.

Last Quarter Synopsis

Whole Foods reported its first quarter financial results on February 8, 2012. The quarterly earnings of 65 cents a share beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 60 cents, and jumped 27.5% from 51 cents earned in the prior-year quarter.

Whole Foods, one of the leading natural and organic foods supermarkets, sustained its top-line growth momentum with revenue climbing 12.9% to $3,390.9 million in the quarter, which also came ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $3,384 million.

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods said that comparable-store sales rose 8.7% in the quarter, down from 9.1% in the prior-year quarter. The company also notified that identical-store sales climbed 8.2% in the quarter compared with 9.1% in the year-ago quarter.

(Read our full coverage on this earnings report: Whole Foods’ Healthy Performance)


The healthy results, prompted management to raise its expectations for the top and bottom lines, and operating margin.

Whole Foods now expects an increase of 13.5%-15% in total sales, underpinned by a 7.3%-8.8% rise in comparable-store sales and a 7%-8.5% growth in identical-store sales in fiscal 2012. Management projects EBITDA in the range of $980 million to $995 million, and expects operating margin to be 5.9%. The company continues to expect capital expenditures in the range of $410 million to $460 million.

Agreement of Estimates Revision

The agreement of estimate revisions indicates that a mixed sentiment was palpable among the analysts following Whole Foods’ first-quarter 2012 results.

In the last 7 days, 10 out of 19 analysts covering the stock increased their estimates, whereas 4 analysts lowered the same for the second quarter of 2012. For the third quarter, 5 analysts changed their estimates upwards and 6 analysts made a downward revision.

For fiscal 2012 and 2013, 16 and 15 analysts, respectively, revised their estimates upward in the last 7 days.

What Drives Estimates Revision

It is evident from above that the analysts were not unidirectional in making revisions to their estimates for the second and third quarters of 2012. However, they showed a strong consensus in making upward revisions to their estimates for fiscal 2012 and 2013.

The better-than-expected first-quarter 2012 results and an upbeat guidance impressed the analysts. However, some of them remained on the back foot as the growth in the comparable and identical-store sales was slightly below their expectations. Moreover, they also remained concerned about the sluggish recovery in the economy with a cautious consumer spending, and a rise in gasoline and food prices.

Magnitude of Estimates Revision

The magnitude of estimate revisions by the analysts is clearly reflected through changes in the Zacks Consensus Estimates.      

The Zacks Consensus Estimates for both the second and third quarters of 2012 remained constant at 58 cents in the last 7 days, as the up and down revisions in the estimates neutralizes the impact.

For fiscal 2012 and 2013, the Zacks Consensus Estimates jumped 6 cents and 8 cents to $2.33 and $2.67, respectively, in the last 7 days.

Closing Comment

Being one of the leading natural and organic foods supermarkets, Whole Foods Market with a strong brand image, and marketing and merchandising expertise, offers investors one of the strongest growth profiles in the industry. The stock is poised to surge once the economy revives and demand for healthier and natural food improves.

The stringent cost-control measures, effective inventory management, and improved store-level performance are driving earnings growth. Whole Foods also has been revamping its pricing strategy and concentrating more on value offerings, while maintaining healthy margins. In the last five fiscal years, gross margin has been in the range of 34% to 35%.

Whole Foods has been spurring its sales through new store openings, acquisitions and comparable store sales growth. Given the fragmented food retailing industry, the company has a track record of successfully integrating regional acquisitions. The company has been gaining market share compared with other supermarket chains.

Whole Foods has been also actively managing its cash flows, by generating healthy free cash and making prudent capital investments. The company’s strong liquidity, positions it to drive future growth. The company has also been utilizing its cash flows in the opening of stores, paying down debt and returning cash to shareholders through dividend and share repurchase.

However, the company’s customers remain sensitive to macro-economic factors including interest rate hikes, increase in fuel and energy costs, credit availability, unemployment levels, and high household debt levels, which may negatively impact their disposable income triggering a shift in focus from higher priced organic products to cheaper private label brands. This may adversely affect Whole Foods top-line growth.

Currently, we maintain our long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock. However, Whole Foods, which faces stiff competition from other supermarket operators such as The Kroger Company (KR) and Supervalu Inc. (SVU), holds a Zacks #2 Rank that translates into a short-term Buy rating.

As a PhD from MIT, Len Zacks proved over 30 years ago that earnings estimate revisions are the most powerful force impacting stock prices. He turned this ground breaking discovery into two of the most celebrating stock rating systems in use today. The Zacks Rank for stock trading in a 1 to 3 month time horizon and the Zacks Recommendation for long-term investing (6+ months). These “Earnings Estimate Scorecard” articles help analyze the important aspects of estimate revisions for each stock after their quarterly earnings announcements. Learn more about earnings estimates and our proven stock ratings at http://www.zacks.com/education/ .

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