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Edited Transcript of AZO earnings conference call or presentation 28-Feb-17 3:00pm GMT

Thomson Reuters StreetEvents

Q2 2017 Autozone Inc Earnings Call

MEMPHIS Feb 28, 2017 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Autozone Inc earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 3:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Unidentified Company Representative

AutoZone, Inc.

* Bill Rhodes

AutoZone, Inc. - Chairman, President, & CEO

* Bill Giles

AutoZone, Inc. - EVP, CFO, & IT

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good morning, and welcome to the AutoZone conference call. Your lines have been placed on listen only until the question-and-answer session of the conference. Please be advised, today's call is being recorded. If you have any objections, please disconnect at this time. This conference call will be to discuss AutoZone's second-quarter financial results.

Bill Rhodes, the Company's Chairman, President, and CEO, will be making a short presentation of the highlights of the quarter. The conference call will end promptly at 10:00 AM Central Time or 11:00 Eastern Standard Time. Before Mr. Rhodes begins, the Company has requested that you listen to the following statement regarding forward-looking statements.

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Unidentified Company Representative, AutoZone, Inc. [2]

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Certain statements contained in this presentation are forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements typically use words such as believe, anticipate, should, intend, plan, will, expect, estimate, project, position, strategy, and similar expressions. These are based on assumptions and assessments made by management in light of experience or perception of historical trends, current conditions, expected future developments, and other factors that we believe to be appropriate.

These forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties including without limitation credit market conditions, the impact of recessionary conditions, competition, product demand, the ability to hire and retain qualified employees, consumer debt levels, inflation, weather, raw material costs or suppliers, energy prices, war and the prospect of war including terrorist activity, construction delays, access to available and feasible financing, the compromising of the confidentiality, availability, or integrity of our information including cyber security attacks, and changes in laws or regulations.

Certain of these risks are discussed in more detail in the risk factors section contained in item 1A under Part 1 of the annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended August 27, 2016, and these risk factors should be read carefully. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and actual results, developments, and business decisions may differ from those contemplated by such forward-looking statements and events described above and in the risk factors could materially and adversely affect our business.

Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date made except as required by applicable law. We undertake no obligation to update publicly any forward-looking statements whether it's the result of information, future events, or otherwise. Actual results may materially differ from anticipated results.

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Operator [3]

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Now I'll hand the call over to Mr. Bill Rhodes. You may begin.

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Bill Rhodes, AutoZone, Inc. - Chairman, President, & CEO [4]

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Good morning, and thank you for joining us today for AutoZone's 2017 second-quarter conference call. With me today are Bill Giles, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and IT; and Brian Campbell, Vice President and Treasurer, Investor Relations, and Tax. Regarding the second quarter, I hope you've had an opportunity to read our press release and learn about the quarter's results. If not the press release, along with slides complementing our comments today are available on our website, www.AutoZoneInc.com.

Please click on quarterly earnings conference call to see them. To begin this morning, I want to thank all AutoZoners across the Company for their tremendous efforts during what ultimately resulted in a challenging quarter. Our results this quarter were below our expectations due largely to a delay in tax refunds this year compared to last. Unfortunately, our performance this quarter ended our remarkable string of 41 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth in earnings per share.

While this is clearly disappointing, I want to recognize and acknowledge the incredible performance of our teams across the Company for delivering this virtually unheard of level of consistent performance for over a decade. Our sales increased 1.4% for the quarter, and our domestic same-store sales were flat. It's worth highlighting, the first nine weeks comp sales were up 2.2% while the last three weeks comp sales declined 6.3%. And unfortunately, the last week was materially weaker than the other two weeks.

As a result of these weaker than expected sales in the last few weeks, we ended the quarter with flat same-store sales. In an effort to provide a little more color, our sales through the Christmas holiday season were quite strong. Remember, prior to Christmas, we had some significant winter conditions and our sales as expected were strong. After Christmas, the weather was much more mild with minimal snow and ice in the Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic.

During this period, our sales growth moderated. Then as noted above, in the last three weeks when we began lapping the beginning of last year's tax refund season, our same-store sales declined fairly significantly. Late last year, the IRS announced that in an effort to combat fraudulent tax refund filings, they would be delaying the issuance of refunds associated with returns claiming the earned income tax credit.

Unfortunately, the timing of refunds typically begins in the last two or three weeks of our second quarter and this year, most of the refunds were delayed until after our quarter concluded. As context, as of the end of our quarter this year, the IRS had issued $24 billion in tax refunds compared to last year when they had issued $70 billion. This delay clearly created a material headwind this past quarter, but all indications are that total tax refunds for the year will be generally consistent with last year.

Our expectation is we have shifted some sales from Q2 into Q3. Regarding regional discrepancies, our Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern stores performed slightly better for the quarter than the remainder of the country. As a reminder our Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern stores represent approximately 25% of our overall sales.

Clearly, this year we experienced more winter conditions early in the quarter than we did last year. But we expected the winter conditions to be more pronounced and last longer. We are exiting this winter with two consecutive fairly mild winters. In regards to our three primary merchandise categories, failure, maintenance, and discretionary merchandise, we experienced similar slowing trends across all three categories during the last three weeks of our quarter.

The majority of our sales are in the failure category and close behind is maintenance. The deterioration in the last three weeks also drove our retail traffic count down for the quarter while our average ticket trends were consistent with Q1. During the quarter, we opened another 33 new stores in the United States. We expect to open approximately 160 new domestic stores in FY17.

Our commercial business continued to expand with 7.2% sales growth over last year's second quarter while opening 12 net new programs. We expect to open approximately 200 net new commercial programs for the fiscal year or approximately 150 additional programs in the last two quarters of the year. At the end of the quarter, 83% of our domestic stores had a commercial program, and we continued to expand in Mexico opening three new stores.

We didn't open any additional IMC branches this quarter, but we did open one new store in Brazil. While the domestic business dominates our sales mix and continues to be our primary focus, we believe we have great growth opportunity outside of the US. Regarding the internet, we experienced improving trends versus our first quarter as our results improved sequentially as the quarter moved along. When I discuss online, I'm referencing business shipped directly to this customer and not buy online and pick up in store.

Our pick up in store business sales are recorded in store sales and are not in our all other category. Our pick up in store business continues to grow rapidly, up over 20% for the quarter. Under the Yes We've Got It thing, we are focused on improving our store closure rates. While our winter quarter is a lower volume quarter, we still see plenty of examples of not being able to say yes to product requests because we didn't have or couldn't find what the customers needed within our network.

In the spirit of satisfying our customers, we are making ongoing significant system investments and enhancements to capture data about our customers' shopping patterns across all of our platforms. We understand we have to be able to share information and process seamlessly between our stores, commercial shops, phone, and online experiences in order to meet all of our customers' needs.

As our primary objective remains growing our domestic retail and commercial businesses, we continued with our inventory availability initiatives in order to respond to the ever increasing challenge of parts demand in the industry. This past quarter, we rolled out two additional megahub locations and now have 13 in operation. We are working diligently on the development of future sites, and we expect to open approximately five more over the remainder of FY17.

Our megahubs continue to exceed our expectations. Additionally, we are continuing development on our two new distribution centers based in Washington State and Florida, and we are expanding our distribution center in Illinois. Our current expectations are for the Washington State facility to come online in late FY17 or early 2018 while the Florida facility will open 6 to 12 months later. For your modeling purposes, each new distribution center is expected to cost approximately $60 million.

Now I'd like to take a moment to go into detail on our inventory availability initiatives. These are two very discrete and different strategies addressing different opportunities. Multiple frequency of delivery is solely focused on improving the in-stock levels for the skews that are stocked in our stores. And the megahubs are focused on adding additional coverage to the local markets, meaning adding skews that would not have been available locally in our network before.

Regarding multiple frequency of deliveries, we had roughly 2,200 stores receiving three or more deliveries per week at the end of Q2. This quarter, we added just over 100 additional sites as we tempered our rollout to focus on standardizing our operations and refining some of our methodologies. This has been a considerable change, and we haven't yet been able to fully achieve our desired results on a variety of fronts.

As you remember, up until recently, we have serviced the vast majority of our stores once a week. All of our systems, processes, and practices were focused on the cadence of these activities being once a week. This past quarter's deleverage was generally as expected but still a bit higher than we thought at the beginning of the quarter due to the softness in sales at the end of the quarter. Once we open our new distribution centers, it will allow us to alleviate some of the cost pressures. We continue to model 15 to 20 basis points in gross margin headwind from this initiative in 2017.

The second ongoing initiative is the megahub store concept. We are currently operating 13 megahubs. We are very excited about what the megahubs allow us to offer customers. As a reminder, these super-sized AutoZone stores carry 80,000 to 100,000 unique skews, approximately twice what a hub store carries today. They provide coverage to both surrounding stores and other hub stores multiple times a day or on an overnight basis.

Our sales results thus far in our open megahubs continued to exceed our expectations. Currently, we have just over 3,900 domestic stores with access to megahub inventory. A majority or about two-thirds of those 3,900 stores receive their service on an overnight basis today, but as we expand our megahubs, more of them will receive this service same day and many will receive it multiple times per day. We expect to ultimately operate 25 to 40 megahubs once the implementation is complete.

The constraint on the speed with which we can open these is availability and location of real estate. While an average AutoZone location is just under 7,000 square feet, a megahub is 20,000 to 30,000 square feet or even more. Identifying and developing these locations in prime retail areas is challenging and it takes time. While there are incremental costs to these rollouts, we continue to feel these investments will provide a better customer experience and increased market share.

Our current assumption on this rollout is that we won't experience meaningful deleverage from this initiative in FY17. Along with improving the local parts availability and assortment, we continue to manage this organization to provide exceptional service for our customers, provide our AutoZoners with a great place to work with opportunities for advancement, and ensure we do it on a profitable basis to provide strong returns for our shareholders.

We will continue to stress the importance of going the extra mile to fulfill our customers' needs regardless of how difficult the request. Regarding Mexico, we opened three stores this quarter and now have 491 total stores. In local currency, Mexico experienced another solid quarter. However, Mexico's sales in US dollars declined given the decrease in the value of the peso to the US dollar.

As our peso financial results are converted to US dollars on an average rate over the quarter, we continue to experience headwinds to our net earnings as a result. Based on exchange rate differences this year to last, we experienced an $0.18 headwind to EPS this past quarter alone. Sales in our other businesses for the quarter were down 3% over last year's second quarter. As a reminder, all data and eCommerce businesses, which includes AutoZone.com and AutoAnything, make up this segment of sales.

This compares to being down 4.2% last quarter and reflects stronger performance in AutoZone.com's business for Q2. As I previously mentioned, we continue to see 20% plus growth in our buy online pick up in store sales. This strength in pick up in store encourages us to continue investing in our in-store experience. Pick up in store, while smaller than home delivery, is quickly catching up in sales volume. We recognize that the majority of our site traffic is providing information to our customers prior to purchase.

And our eCommerce platform represents an important part of our omnichannel experience. We see customers doing lots of research to learn about the products and on how to do repairs. While these businesses are small for us and less than 5% of our total sales, the omnichannel experience is important and we will continue to invest in our eCommerce platform. With the continued aging of the car population, we continue to be optimistic regarding trends for our industry in both DIY and DIFM.

As new vehicle unit sales are reaching all-time highs and gas prices on average remain subdued, miles driven continued to increase. The lower-end consumer benefits the most from lower gas prices relative to income. This trend remains encouraging. Regarding our expectations for the remainder of 2017, we expect performance to improve in Q3 if for no other reason than the shift in timing of income tax refunds.

As we exit a disappointing performance in Q2, we are reinforcing to ourselves that we must continue to focus on both short-term and long-term performance, and we will be keenly focused on delivering -- continuing to deliver consistently strong performance. Now let me review our highlights regarding execution of our operating theme for 2017, Yes We've Got It. The key priorities for the year are great people providing great service, profitably growing our commercial business, leveraging the internet, Yes We've Got It, and leveraging information technology.

On the retail front this past quarter under the great people providing great service thing, we continued with our intense focus on improving execution. While we've been adding store payroll this year, we are now enhancing our training to store level AutoZoners and increasing the share of voice regarding availability and the Yes We've Got It thing. We have been aggressive on our technology investments and believe these initiatives will differentiate us on a go-forward basis.

We realize as customers have become much more tech and mobile savvy, we have to have a sales proposition that touches all the ways they desire to interact with us. Our current and future technology investments will lead to sales growth across all of our businesses. The focus is on making sure AutoZoners can see inventory availability across the entire organization, not just their store, swiftly and accurately.

In regards to commercial, we opened 12 net new programs during the quarter. Our expectation is we will continue to open new programs in the range of 200 programs in 2017. As we continue to improve our product assortment and availability and as we make other refinements to our commercial offerings, we expect that the estimated sales potential from the market will continue to grow. Our results continue to provide us confidence to be aggressive in adding resources and new programs to this very important growth initiative.

We should also highlight another strong performance in return on investment capital as we were able to finish our second quarter at 31%. We continue to be pleased with this metric as it is one of the best, if not the best, in all of hard line's retailing. However, our primary focus has been and continues to be that we ensure every incremental dollar of capital that we deploy in this business provides an acceptable return well in excess of our cost of capital.

It is important to reinforce that we will always maintain our diligence regarding capital stewardship as the capital we invest is our investors' capital. Before I pass the discussion over to Bill Giles to talk about our financial results, I'd like to thank and reinforce how appreciative we are to our entire team's efforts to continue to meet and exceed our customers' wants, needs, and desires.

We remain bullish on our future performance because we have a great business operated by exceptional AutoZoners. Now, I'll turn the call over to Bill Giles. Bill?

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Bill Giles, AutoZone, Inc. - EVP, CFO, & IT [5]

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Thanks, Bill, and good morning, everyone. To start this morning, let we take a few moments to talk more specifically about our retail, commercial, and international results. For the quarter, total auto parts sales, which includes our domestic retail and commercial businesses, our Mexico and Brazil stores, and our 26 IMC branches, increased 1.6%.

Switching over to macro trends, during the quarter, nationally unleaded gas prices started out at $2.16 a gallon and ended the quarter at $2.31 a gallon, a slight increase. Last year, gas prices decreased per gallon during the second quarter starting out at $2.09 and ending at $1.72. While prices at the pump are higher today than they were last year at this time, we continue to feel the absolute price of $2.31 a gallon is not high enough amount to change the driving behavior of Americans as we continue to see miles driven increasing.

We also recognize that the impact of miles driven on cars over seven years old, the current average, is much different than on newer cars in terms of wear and tear. Miles driven increased 1.6% in October, 4.2% in November, and 0.5% in December, and for all of 2016, miles driven were up 2.8%. The other statistic we highlight is the number of seven-year-old and older vehicles on the road, which continues to trend in our industry's favor.

For the trailing 52 weeks ended, total sales for AutoZone store was $1.775 million. For the quarter, total commercial sales increased 7.2%, and the second-quarter commercial represented 19% of our total sales and grew $29 million over last year's Q2. This past quarter, we opened 12 net new programs versus [32] programs opened in our second quarter of last fiscal year. We now have our commercial program in 4,437 stores or 83% of our domestic stores supported by 183 hub stores.

And approximately 900 of our programs are three years old or younger. In 2017, we expect to open approximately 200 new programs. As we have begun our FY17, our trends have accelerated which is encouraging to us. We are focused on having a great sales team and having much stronger engagement of our store management teams, particularly the store managers and district managers. We remain confident that we will continue to gain market share with our commercial customers.

We are encouraged by the initiatives that we have in place and feel 2017 should be a better sales growth year than 2016. Our Mexico stores continued to perform well. We opened three new stores during the second quarter. We currently have 491 stores in Mexico. This upcoming year, we expect to open approximately 40 new stores.

As Bill said earlier, we were challenged by difficult foreign exchange rate in regard to the peso. While sales in base currency were above plan this quarter, the devaluation in the peso was much greater than we assumed at the start of the year. The peso devalued over the course of the quarter, and this has created a headwind and our EPS is negatively impacted by $0.18 a share. We do believe the Mexico leadership team has done an exceptional job managing the peso denominated business.

Regarding Brazil, we opened one new store and currently are operating nine stores. Our plans are to grow between 20 and 25 total stores over the next few years, and while sales growth has been very encouraging, we continue to refine our business model to make sure that it works for us financially. Gross margin for the quarter was 52.7% of sales, down 9 basis points. The decrease in gross margin was attributable to higher shrink expense and higher supply chain costs associated with current inventory initiatives partially offset by lower acquisition costs.

In regards to product cost inflation, it was relatively insignificant. Currently, we feel costs will be predictable and manageable, and we remain cognizant of future developments regarding inflation and will make the appropriate adjustments should they arise. Compared to the prior year, we have incurred more costs related to our supply chain in support of our inventory availability initiatives along with rising shrink expense after several years of declining expenses. The merchandising organization has and will continue to work diligently to offset these headwinds with a focus on lowering acquisition costs.

Our primary focus remains growing absolute gross profit dollars in our total auto parts segment. SG&A for the quarter was 35.9% of sales, higher by 9 basis points from last year's second quarter. Operating expenses as a percentage of sales were higher than last year due to higher domestic store payroll, offset in part by lower incentive compensation. We are beginning to see an acceleration in average wage rates as certain states and municipalities have increased minimum wages and as some national retailers have also increased entry-level wages.

EBIT for the quarter was $384 million, up 0.3% over last year's second quarter. Our EBIT margin was 16.8%. Interest expense for the quarter was $34 million compared with $32.8 million in Q2 a year ago. Debt outstanding at the end of the quarter was $5.152 billion or $307 million more than last year's balance of $4.845 billion. Our adjusted debt level metric finished the quarter at 2.6 times EBITDAR.

While in any given quarter we may increase or decrease our leverage metric based on management's opinion regarding debt and equity market conditions, we remain committed to both our investment-grade rating and our capital allocation strategy. And share repurchases are an important element of that strategy. For the quarter, our tax rate was 32.2% versus last year's Q2 of 34.7%.

I want to take a moment to remind listeners our AutoZone's first-quarter adoption of a new accounting standard. The new standard requires us to recognize the tax benefit received from the gains employees have on stock options as a credit to income tax expenses on the P&L. This past quarter, it lowered our tax rate 258 basis points. This accounting change also increases the diluted share count calculation.

Net income for the quarter was $237.1 million, up 3.7% over last year. Our diluted share count of 29.3 million was down 4.7% from last year's second quarter. The combination of these factors drove earnings per share for the quarter to $8.08, up 8.8% over the prior year's second quarter. Excluding the impact of the previously mentioned change in accounting for stock option exercises, our EPS would have increased by 3.8% for the quarter.

Related to the cash flow statement, for the second fiscal quarter, we generated $157 million of operating cash flow. Net fixed assets were up 7.3% versus last year. Capital expenditures for the quarter totaled $118 million and reflected the additional expenditures required to open 37 new locations this quarter. Capital expenditures on existing stores, hub and megahub store remodels or openings, work on development of new stores for upcoming quarters, initial investments in our new domestic DCs, and information technology investments.

With the new stores opened, we finished this past quarter with 5,346 stores in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, 491 stores in Mexico, and 9 in Brazil, for a total AutoZone store count of 5,846. We also had 26 IMC branches open at fiscal year end taking our total locations to 5,872. Depreciation totaled $72.8 million for the quarter versus last year's second-quarter expense of $68.7 million. This is generally in line with the recent quarter growth rates.

We repurchased $198 million of AutoZone stock in the second quarter, and at quarter end, we had $585 million remaining under our share buyback authorization, and our leverage metric was 2.6 times at quarter end. Again, I want to stress we managed to appropriate credit ratings without any one metric. The metric we report is meant as a guide only as each trading firm has its own criteria. We continue to view our share repurchase program as an attractive capital deployment strategy.

Next, I'd like to update you on our inventory levels in total and on a per store basis. The Company's inventory increased 8.7% over the same period last year driven primarily by our ongoing inventory initiatives during the fiscal year, and to a lesser extent, by the deterioration in sales trends at the end of the quarter. Inventory per location was $665,000 versus $633,000 last year, and $647,000 just this past quarter.

Net inventory, defined as merchandise inventories less accounts payable on a per location basis, was a negative $36,000 versus a negative $57,000 last year, and a negative $67,000 last quarter. As a result, accounts payable as a percent of gross inventory finished the quarter at 105.5%. Finally, as Bill previously mentioned, our continued disciplined capital management approach resulted in return on invested capital for the trailing four quarters of 31%.

We have and will continue to make investments that we believe will generate returns and significantly exceed our cost of capital. Now, I'll turn it back to Bill Rhodes.

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Bill Rhodes, AutoZone, Inc. - Chairman, President, & CEO [6]

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Thank you, Bill. This quarter, our sales and profitability performance were not up to our standard. Much of the challenge was macro in terms of delayed IRS refunds, but we have also incurred rising operating costs which include our initiatives. At the end of the day, we have had a remarkable track record of success, and we will continue to focus on optimizing both short and long-term performance.

We have an exceptional team that executes extremely well. Our focus remains on being successful over the long run. That success will be attributable to our approach to leveraging our unique and powerful culture and focusing on the needs of our customers. To execute at a high level, we have to consistently adhere to living the pledge. We cannot and will not take our eye off of execution. We must stay committed to executing day in and day out on our game plan.

Success will be achieved with an attention to detail and exceptional execution. Over the course of the last quarter, two topics have garnered a significant amount of attention, and before we move to Q&A, I would like to address those directly. First, following the election, the border adjustable tax has become a hot topic. As I'm sure many of you know, I was part of a contingent of Retail Industry Leaders Association CEOs who went to Washington, DC and met with President Trump, members of his administration, and various members of Congress to share our perspective on the potential harmful effects of this proposal.

While we are concerned about the impact on retail business models, we are more concerned about the ramifications for hard-working American families due to likely significant inflation that would ensue. Our key message is that we certainly support a pro-growth agenda including corporate and individual tax reform, but we stress the importance of a thoughtful approach to tax reform to avoid any unintended consequences.

Secondly, there have been articles written and increased dialogue around online retailers encroaching on our space. Much of the information highlighted is not new news. There hasn't been any significant changes in the competitive landscape, including suppliers' relationships with online retailers.

We are very aware of online threats and we are very focused on leveraging our long-standing strengths to effectively compete with all competitive sets. While clearly the online channel has grown their share in the automotive aftermarket and virtually every other retail sector, to date our portion of the sector of the industry has continued to grow generally in line with the overall market. While we can never take any competition lightly, we believe we have some clear strengths that allow us to more than effectively compete.

Specifically, the trustworthy advice provided by our AutoZoners each and every day helps customers in many ways and many cases where they don't know what parts or services that they need, and we provide basic services to get them on their way. We also have the ability to test parts on cars to determine exactly what the problem is. With 80% of the US population within eight miles of an AutoZone, the immediacy to resolve a customer's needs with trustworthy advice and having the right high-quality parts remains a competitive advantage for us.

Our customers have choices, and we must exceed their expectations in whatever way they choose to shop with us. We are fortunate to operate in one of the stronger retail segments, and we continue to be excited about our industry's growth prospects for 2017. As consumers continually look to save money while taking care of their cars, we are committed to providing the trustworthy advice they have grown to expect.

It truly is the value add that differentiates us from any other faceless transactions. Customers have come to advice that advice from us. It is with this focus we will implement more enhancements on both our website and in store to provide even more knowledgeable service. We don't ever expect an online experience to replace the advice our customers want, but they do expect more information on repairing their vehicles. This aspect of service has always been our most important cultural cornerstone, and it will be long into the future.

Our long-term model is to grow [big] store square footage at a low-single-digit growth rate, and we expect to continue growing our commercial business at an accelerated rate. Therefore, we would look to routinely grow EBIT dollars in the mid-single-digit range or better in times of strength, and we leverage our very strong and predictable cash flow to repurchase shares enhancing our earnings per share growth in the double digits.

We feel the track we are on will allow us to continue winning for the long run. We believe our steady consistent strategy is correct. It is the attention to details and consistent execution that will matter. Our belief is strong consistent strategy combined with superior execution is a formula for success.

Our charge remains to optimize our performance regardless of market conditions and continue to ensure we are investing in the key initiatives that will drive our long-term performance. In the end, delivering strong EPS growth and ROIC each and every quarter is how we measure our sales. Now I would like to open up the call for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions)

Our first question comes from Alan Rifkin from BTIG.

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NEW SPEAKER [2]

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Thank you, very much. Bill Rhodes, based on your past experience with the delays in income tax refunds is there any reason why we should not be in the that the revenues lost in Q2 will be replaced dollar for dollar in your fiscal third quarter?

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Bill Rhodes, AutoZone, Inc. - Chairman, President, & CEO [3]

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That's a great question, Alan. First of all, indications we see that the total tax refund dollars will be the same as they have been the last few years so that is a good thing. The piece that we don't know and which is uncharted waters for us is the time is going to be delayed significantly more than it has been in the past. We've had times where it's been a week or we could have, this time it was a full three week or more delay for the most significant of those refunds and so one thing that we question we don't have any facts to know whether it is good, bad or indifferent for us is with the timing being in a different time of year do more of those dollars come into our sector or do more of those dollars go into another sector? We don't know the answer to that so we are going to have to wait and see what happens.

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NEW SPEAKER [4]

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Okay thank you and a follow-up if I may. With respect to your three initiatives, increased deliveries, the hubs and the mega hubs all of which are at various stages of maturity can you just go through and assess or believe in terms of the potential progress of each of those three and what the ultimate revenue gains and profitability gains and most importantly ROIC gains can be? If you had to rank the three initiatives built in terms of ultimately what would give you the biggest bang for the buck, how would you rank them?

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NEW SPEAKER [5]

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First of all I would start with hubs. We have got 183 or so hubs out there today. They are tried and true. We first started them around 2001. Was somewhat deemphasized them in the middle of 2000 and realized in 2008 or nine how vitally important they were so we rejuvenated them in 2008 or so and they have been humming right along ever since. That gave us the insight that expanded parts coverage is a material differentiator in the marketplace. Then we came up with the concept of mega hubs which basically doubles the number of SKUs we carry in the local marketplace but takes it to an 80 to 100,000 SKUs. Ever since we began talking about the mega hubs, every time you talked about the reset they continue to exceed our performance. I don't know we could be more bullish were open about how good that is worked for us so far. We're really excited about that. Everybody keeps asking why we go faster, I promise you we're going as fast as we can but -- high-quality retail space that is 30,000 square feet, that is not easy to do. I think her teams have done a great job with the 13 we have opened and five or more so to open. We hope to be able to open 25 to 40. We are still trying to figure out what the right number is as we continue to outperform I think that makes the likelihood of the number being higher rather than lower. The third one is multiple frequency delivery. That is been of the mixed bag. So far we absolutely believe it's the right thing to do. But we've gone and we've changed a significant amount for ever in our 37-year history the vast majority of our stores we delivered once a week. Our replenishment algorithms are based on once we deliveries. Our DCs and the way they are structured are set for once a week deliveries. Our stores and the way they put up trucks is set for once a week deliveries and on and on. As we've gone further we've slowed this was down about six months ago, we slowed it down because we started to uncover some unintended consequences that were happening as a result of those changes. We still believe this in some form is going to be the right thing to do for our customer and for our business. We still got quite a bit of work to do to make sure we optimize it so that when is still a little bit influx. The other two are tried and true and in full implementation mode. We just got some work to do to refine MSC.

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NEW SPEAKER [6]

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Does the potential exists for any of the hubs to be converted to mega hubs?

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NEW SPEAKER [7]

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That is happened with some of them. Summer on a piece of property where we can add another 15,000 square feet and we have done that. Others are landlocked and maybe a hub store in the right place that we have to move it because they've got to get a bigger facility. It is strictly about the size of the facility.

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NEW SPEAKER [8]

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Thank you, very much.

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NEW SPEAKER [9]

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The next question comes from Seth Sigman from Credit Suisse.

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NEW SPEAKER [10]

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Good morning guys. A couple questions on gross margin. First on the shrink issue it seemed to be one of the biggest differences versus prior quarters, have you seen a change in the actual losses or does that reflect inventory growth over the last few quarters and how do we think about that drag on margin going forward in the back half of the year?

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NEW SPEAKER [11]

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That's a good question. We had a number of years in president to shrink results and I've been historically low and now we are seeing that turn the other way and we recognized as you highlighted we've made a lot of changes as Bill walked through a little bit on some of the inventory in the inability initiatives this -- we've introduced a lot more activity in the supply chain and store operations and suspect that probably -- has contributed but I expect that to continue for little bit of time. It takes time for shrink to turn around. It's not something that's going to turn around in a particular quarter but I suspect we will continue to improve and the teams are working hard to bring it down.

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NEW SPEAKER [12]

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I guess more broadly there is been some gross margin pressure across the space, as you think about pricing have you seen any change in pricing behavior? It seems like most of the gross margin issues are company specific or isolated but wondering if you have seen any promotions or pricing changes across the group?

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NEW SPEAKER [13]

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That's a good question because when you look -- both supply chain which is inventory availability initiatives that we are very conscious about, shrink which is at historic lows and a little higher. Past that our gross margin rate is very healthy. We have not seen any kind of pricing activities in the marketplace that I would consider to be disruptive. Our merchandising organization to Denise to work very hard at lowering acquisition costs and we have been very successful at it so overall I would categorize our gross margin is very h healthy. It continues to be very healthy and rational industry. We have got a couple of items in our control and we are working hard reducing them.

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NEW SPEAKER [14]

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Thanks very much.

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NEW SPEAKER [15]

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The next question comes from Simeon Gutman from Morgan Stanley.

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NEW SPEAKER [16]

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Hey guys, this is -- on I wanted to piggy a little bit -- another requester related to miles driven trends. Related to inventory initiatives it looks like you slowed the multifrequency delivery rollouts a little bit this quarter. The shrink expense popped up. Can you give us any color around what to expect in terms of gross margins for the back half of the year? Should we expect them to expand if the shrink inventory headwinds persist or can you give us some color on that? That I have one more question.

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NEW SPEAKER [17]

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First of all we did intentionally slow down the multiple frequency and delivery rollouts. We actually tipped that all the last call that we were going to move from -- 100 stores in a quarter and that is what we did. We do that because it is causing quite a bit of change and with change comes disruption in our supply chain and we went to slow it down so we could work through some of those elements of change management and honestly it has had the desired result. Things are settling down a bit in our distribution center. We had a tremendous amount of workload over the last couple of years so we are pleased with that change. Clearly that has resulted in some increased cost in our supply chain. You saw that called out in our press release. Part of that was due to MFD in part was due to the significant decline in sales we have the last three weeks so I think as we think about it going forward we have been saying it is 15 or 20 basis points of headwind going forward. Regarding the shrink question I would necessarily draw a direct correlation -- as Bill previously stated. I think we have been moving a lot of been touring throughout our network over the last couple of years and when you move inventory the more times you had led -- I again point to say what he said, we have had unprecedented improvements in our shrink expense over the last six years. It is going the other way now but I'm confident our team will get in front of it and controller effectively. The only problem is when shrink goes one way or the other it has a bit of a tale and takes some time to turn around. I think we would expect that to be a bit of a headwind through the balance of the year.

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NEW SPEAKER [18]

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Just one more question around miles driven. I know miles driven decelerated a little bit in December. I don't know if you have seen this data but if you were to slice the miles dated driven by average vehicle age and look at each individual vehicle bucket are you seeing any difference in transit between miles driven within your sweet spot of say seven to 13 -year-old vehicles versus newer vehicles that tend to be more under warranty?

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NEW SPEAKER [19]

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I'm not so sure we have access to slice it that way. From our perspective the 2.8% increase is a great number. To be above anything 1% on miles driven is a solid number so it's going to reflect more wear and tear and we feel really good about where the age of the vehicles are in the increase to wear and tear that they are incurring given the higher miles driven so I think again points to a really healthy industry.

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NEW SPEAKER [20]

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Okay thanks guys.

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NEW SPEAKER [21]

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The next question comes from Michael Lasser from UBS.

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NEW SPEAKER [22]

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Good morning, it is Michael Goldsmith on for Michael Lasser this morning. My first question is on the tax refunds. The delay in those tax refunds, to that have -- of particular parts categories with the DIY or commercial side of the business and can you recapture -- between these segments?

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NEW SPEAKER [23]

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I think the second part of your question is historically we think we captured them and as I said earlier the timeframe is significantly different so we have to wait and see a little bit. I think the parts categories, there is some differences. I don't think there's really any material differences in which categories respond differently. There is some deferred maintenance categories like breaks where you will see a more pronounced difference. Failure category is a less pronounced because you have to get the car up and running that day. You asked specifically about differences between retail and commercial. I would say it is more pronounced in retail but hasn't lingered we saw an increase in commercial. All of this is going to play itself out over the next three or four weeks. We think it is transitory nature. There is nothing we could of done about it. As we look back on it I don't think there is anything we would do differently as a result and somewhat have to deal with the consequences of them trying to do with fraud which I think is the right thing to do.

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NEW SPEAKER [24]

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That's helpful and as a follow-up given that we have a little colder December than last year but generally a milder winter overall, how does that impact the set up for the rest of the year for zone in the industry overall?

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NEW SPEAKER [25]

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Too me that is the most germane question. We loved what happened in December. Last year we didn't have that kind of winter weather and it was very encouraging to us. All the long-term forecasts said it would last longer and be more pronounced the basically as soon as we got through the Christmas holidays the weather got much more mild. We would've preferred December would have repeated itself in January. In the past we had a very mild winter followed by a more normalized winter and we've seen those sales rebound in the spring and in particular in the summer. We are a little bit uncertain as we go into this year. We think clearly some of the deferred maintenance items that were pulled into December and January last year that did not happen so we would anticipate getting those deferred maintenance items in the third quarter in the beginning of the fourth quarter but as far as a failure items the cause because of the difficult winter I think is still yet to be seen. Chassis parts and breaks and the like so we have to wait and see. It's a little bit of a different cycle for us.

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NEW SPEAKER [26]

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Thanks again.

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NEW SPEAKER [27]

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The next question comes from Brian Nagel from Oppenheimer.

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NEW SPEAKER [28]

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Good morning. I hope not to beat a dead horse but the first question quickly on the tax refunds and basically a follow-up to the prior question, if you look at the results we saw today it seems as though this delay may of like the had an large impact on the DIY site. I understand this delay is different than prior delays but as you look back over time is that usually what happens? Do you usually see a more pronounced impact on the DIY side?

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NEW SPEAKER [29]

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I would say number one we are more mature and our retail business that are -- in a macro headwinds or tailwinds we see more pronounced in the retail business but clearly every time we have seen it has been a bigger impact on retail then commercial. This time we clearly saw it in commercial although it lagged a week and a half or so.

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NEW SPEAKER [30]

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Okay. The second question I had and I appreciate your questions in your comments regarding e-commerce, has AutoZone taken any proactive actions lately such as pricing and more aggressively pricing -- or even in advertising to protect the business more from this type of competition?

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NEW SPEAKER [31]

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I would say no. I would say we are continuing to execute our strategy at her head is not in the sand. We are cognizant of what is going on in and around this but I would say our pricing and advertising philosophies to date have not changed as a result of any competitive threat. I would say we are constantly looking for ways to optimize our pricing and constantly looking for ways to improve our advertising and clearly digital advertising is becoming more more important, whether that is going up against an online only competitor or going up against traditional brick-and-mortar competitors, that is becoming a more more important element but I don't see that as a shift because of online competition.

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NEW SPEAKER [32]

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Got it, thank you.

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NEW SPEAKER [33]

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The next question comes from Matthew Fassier from Goldman Sachs.

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NEW SPEAKER [34]

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Thanks for taking my q uestion, this is -- on behalf of Matthew Fassier. I just put they wanted to touch base on one or two topics. In terms of tax refunds, last week seemed to have seen a little bit of a pickup in the refund activity. Bill, could you talk if you're comps also saw a bit of refunds in the last week or this week? Just curious there?

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NEW SPEAKER [35]

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Sure. Last week Wednesday, Thursday and Friday there was something like $70 billion of tax refunds that were released, not that were paying attention. We clearly saw our sales increase as a result of that. I want to be really careful about getting into I night issues on what is going on day-to-day or even over a weekend. We are in this business for the long-term the clearly as those large amount of refunds if the market we saw pickup in our business and I will leave it at that.

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NEW SPEAKER [36]

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Thank you. A follow-up on the lines of a question that Brian asked in terms of the online business, the other category -- declined 3% -- how are you thinking about improving transit this business? Thank you.

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NEW SPEAKER [37]

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I think they are both very different businesses by the way and they have made some improvements since the previous quarter so I think it will continue to grow. I think AutoAnything has had some challenges in the last six or so months and there are opportunities to expand SKU is sort -- in order to drive traffic. I think we will continue to be competitive there at all of that continues to be a very strong and important business in the commercial segment as well so both businesses are flattish at the moment, down a little bit but they are making some improvements and we expect them to continue to make improvements over the next few quarters.

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NEW SPEAKER [38]

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Perfect, thank you.

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Operator [39]

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The next question comes from Mike Baker from Deutsche Bank.

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NEW SPEAKER [40]

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Things, I guess you would say you really haven't changed your pricing strategy so I will ask why not? How do you look at Amazon pricing versus yours? -- it does look like they are a little bit below you so why would that necessitate a change to your strategy?

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NEW SPEAKER [41]

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I don't think there is any question they are priced below is in many different cases but I think the value proposition is extraordinarily different. Number one the convenience factor, you can walk into our store in the sense of immediacy especially for a failure part is in your hand immediately versus having to wait overnight or couple of days in most cases. I don't think many consumers today are willing to wait when the car is down so that is one element. Another element is we have got tremendous trustworthy advice in our AutoZoners in-store. That comes with a cost and therefore it is part of the value proposition but for AutoZone or to figure out what is going on with their vehicle and with the solution is, there is value to the customer in t hat. We do -- we are there to take that -- back and on and on. We feel like there is a significant value proposition differential between us and any online competitor and what happens with that over time, we will see. We have dealt with price competition for years and some of that price competition for instance is a mass merchandising and we have effectively managed that over the years so we don't see it necessarily any d ifferent.

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NEW SPEAKER [42]

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So I guess a follow-up on that, is there any way to quantify those points? Whether it be the need for immediacy, you gave this -- what percentage of total sales is that are maybe what percent of sales come with some consultation rather than just grabbing an item and going the percent of returns, anything like that? What do you mean by core return?

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NEW SPEAKER [43]

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The core return is if you by an alternator from us we will sell you the alternator for let's say $100 and a $25 core because the old alternator, it is a remanufactured alternator and the old alternator is the raw material to make the next one so there is a deposit if you will but the point is there is a tremendous reverse supply chain in this business that doesn't exist in many other businesses. A lot of businesses talk about returns but this is a significant reverse supply c hain. On buy online and pick up in store, it is not a significant part of our business today so I don't want to overstate that. You asked how are we going to determine what this right price differential is over time? I think were going to do at the same way we have done at the last 37 years. We've had different competitive channels through the years and we have effectively been able to optimize our pricing in the light of the different competitive sets and I think we will continue to do that.

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NEW SPEAKER [44]

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I think I would turn it over to someone else. Thanks.

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Operator [45]

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The next question we have is coming from done lever from Raymond James.

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NEW SPEAKER [46]

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Thanks, Bill. One of the territories the did not achieve above-average same-store sales growth was the Southeast. We have seen a large number of O'Reilly stores opening in the state of Florida. Can you talk about how the growing competitive overlap in that state could be impacting sales growth?

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NEW SPEAKER [47]

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I wouldn't overstate their rolled into south Florida. We have different competitors that are going into different parts of the country all the time. Clearly Florida is a strong market for us but we are not the most dominant player as far as store count in Florida. There are others that have significantly more stores than us. I don't think we're seeing anything different in Florida and -- encroachments another part of the country.

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NEW SPEAKER [48]

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Okay. A second question and talking about Mexico, it sounds like that could be a longer-term challenge given some of the political decisions being made in Washington. Is there anything you can do, whether it is hedging or p ricing, anything to improve the profitability of your stores in Mexico?

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NEW SPEAKER [49]

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I was start first of all we are very pleased with the performance of our Mexico business. I think our team down there has done a superb job of managing in light of this significant devaluation of the peso. Frankly this all started a couple of years ago and if you recall we were talking last year we thought it would be a one-time deal and would have muted impact going forward, that clearly has not happened post the election. The peso has significantly deteriorated yet again. We can't manage the pay sale. We can hedge but we have elected not to do that. We have elected to try to do most of our hedging by buying in local currency and therefore we hedge the product cost versus hedging profitability but at the end of the day if there is a ration in the pay sale it hurts our US dollar profits but at the end of the day we would be doing the same thing in Mexico we've been doing all along. It is been a good business for us and we anticipated being a good business for a long time.

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NEW SPEAKER [50]

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The last question I have is the better momentum in commercial, do you think that's primarily the sales training you alluded to earlier and Yes We've Got It, are a, are you expanding that message to a larger number of commercial customers or is it just going to your existing platinum or gold accounts and hitting them more aggressively?

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NEW SPEAKER [51]

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I think it is multifaceted. Number one, yes we are communicating to customers that Yes We've Got It in a way we never have before. We believe we can do that because we are in a better position that what ever happened before. I would add a lot of emphasis to strictly the improvements we had in inventory availability. As we talked over the last year another big part of what we have been trying to do is significant increase the engagement of our store manager and district managers in this business. Many of us myself included group of the retail process over lack of a better term is kind of our comfort zone or a fastball. -- and I think we are doing that over time and I think that will pay long-term significant dividends.

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NEW SPEAKER [52]

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Okay great, thank you.

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Operator [53]

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The next question is coming from Stephen Forbes from -- securities.

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NEW SPEAKER [54]

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Good morning guys. I went to focus on growth in the commercial segment given the acceleration this quarter. Maybe just some high-level commentary on how this business is progressing relative to the expectations in both segments, building existing customers and gaining new customers?

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NEW SPEAKER [55]

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I think on both sides we have been very pleased overall even with the recent performance of the quarter. We had an acceleration in our commercial programs overall. We are clearly gaining share in growing significantly faster than the industry. The team is but in several new programs in order to outdrive both existing store customers as well as prospecting and attaining new customers as well so that business does seem to be healthier and it seems on a track to continue to grow so I think on both sides it's been healthy but it's really more the existing customers that have been really strong and that's the one area we are focused on.

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NEW SPEAKER [56]

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Maybe staying on that topic as a follow-up, is there anything to call out regionally? -- from a performance standpoint within the commercial segment, anyone outstripping others? Do you know where you are gaining share from when you think about growing your existing customer base or is it really brought?

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NEW SPEAKER [57]

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It's very broad and in fairness we have a low market share so we believe there is enormous Greenfield opportunities for us across the country. All the regions performed a reasonably well. Clearly the weather affected regions in the prior year's and more challenged but they continued to perform well so we see it pretty balanced across the country so we feel pretty good about the commercial team as a whole and how they are performing.

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NEW SPEAKER [58]

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Thank you.

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Operator [59]

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That concludes our question-and-answer session. I will hand the call back over to Mr. Bill Rhodes.

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Bill Rhodes, AutoZone, Inc. - Chairman, President, & CEO [60]

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Thank you. Before we conclude the call, I would like to take a moment to reiterate our business model continues to be very solid. We excited for growth balance -- anything for granted as we understand our customers have alternatives. We have a solid plan to succeed this fiscal year but I want to stress this is a marathon and not a Sprint. As we continue to focus on the basics and focus on optimizing long-term shareholder value we are confident AutoZone will continue to be very successful. Thank you all for participating in today's call and have a great day.

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Operator [61]

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That concludes today's call. Thank you for your participation. You may now disconnect.