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Tractor Supply Posts Broad Third-Quarter Sales Gains

The aisles at your local Tractor Supply (NASDAQ: TSCO) store have gotten more crowded lately. The rural lifestyle retailer this week announced robust sales growth for its fiscal third quarter thanks to healthy customer traffic.

Tractor Supply also raised its outlook on both the top and bottom lines -- but not quite back to the level that management had originally targeted.

Image source: Getty Images.

More on that updated forecast in a moment. But first, here's how the headline numbers compare to the prior-year period:

 Metric

Q3 2017

Q3 2016

Year-Over-Year Change

Revenue

$1.72 billion

$1.54 billion

11.6%

Net income

$92 million

$89 million

2.7%

EPS

$0.72

$0.67

7.5%

Data source: Tractor Supply financial filings. EPS = earnings per share.

What happened this quarter

Sales gains sped up for the second straight quarter, rising to a 12% pace from 9% last quarter and 7% at the start of fiscal 2017. Results were mixed in terms of profitability, with gross profit margin ticking higher but bottom-line margin slipping due to increased expenses.

Other highlights of the quarter include:

  • Comparable-store sales jumped to a 6.6% pace from 2.2% last quarter thanks to a 5% bump in traffic and a 1.5% boost in average spending. Growth was positive across all geographic regions and in each of Tractor Supply's major product categories.
  • Gross profit margin rose slightly to 34.9% of sales from 34.7%.
  • Expenses increased at a faster pace than revenue as the company shelled out higher incentive-based bonuses in response to the increased sales growth. Management also allocated cash toward its digital sales channel. As a result, net margin slipped to 5.3% of sales from 5.8% a year ago.
  • The company added 35 stores to its footprint, pushing its total to 1,665 locations.
  • Over the broader nine-month period, Tractor Supply's revenue has risen 9% as profitability dipped to 5.9% of sales from 6.5%.

What management had to say

Executives found plenty to be optimistic about in the latest operating trends. "We delivered a strong third quarter with sales growth in all of our major product categories and geographic regions," CEO Greg Sandfort said in a press release, "as well as positive same store sales in both traffic and ticket."

"Our teams took the necessary steps to ensure we were well-stocked with the right products and inventory levels to meet the needs of our customers during the extended summer selling season and storm events," he continued.

Management believes that their strong brand, along with improvements to the shopping experience both online and in stores, should help keep that positive momentum going. "With a loyal and dedicated customer base, continued convergence of our physical and digital storefronts, and a greater focus on serving the customer, we believe we are well positioned to drive sustainable, long-term growth and shareholder value."

Looking forward

Sandfort and his team raised their top- and bottom-line forecast for the year and now project comps to improve by between 1.7% and 2.2%, compared to the prior target range of 1.1% to 1.7%. Net sales are predicted to be between $7.17 billion and $7.22 billion, up from the previous forecast of $7.13 billion to $7.19 billion. Net income should now come in between $416 million and $421 million for a slight boost from the $413 million to $419 million range issued back in July.

The updated figures still imply reduced profits in 2017 and sales growth that's below the 3% to 5% range that the company consistently posted before last year's slowdown. Returning to that stronger pace would require persistently high customer traffic gains, and this quarter's improvement marks a step in that direction.

 

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Demitrios Kalogeropoulos has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Tractor Supply. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.