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As Kroger Gains, It May Be at the Expense of Whole Foods

Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) rose on a solid earnings beat in Friday’s session, but earnings were not the only reason the stock is up. In fact, some may call them a byproduct. This grocery chain has performed very well over the course of 2015, and it looks to be gaining market share from one of its rivals, Whole Foods Market Inc. (NASDAQ: WFM).

The grocery chain reported quarterly diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.44 on revenues of $25.54 billion, compared to Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $0.40 and $25.5 billion in revenue. In the same period a year ago, Kroger reported EPS of $0.35 on revenue of $25.31 billion.

Based on its strong year-to-date results, Kroger raised its net earnings per diluted share guidance to a range of $1.92 to $1.98 for fiscal 2015, compared to the consensus estimate of $1.96 in EPS. The previous guidance was $1.90 to $1.95 per diluted share. This range exceeds the company’s long-term net earnings per diluted share growth rate guidance of 8% to 11%, plus a growing dividend.

Kroger raised its identical supermarket sales growth guidance, excluding fuel, to a range of 4.0% to 5.0% for fiscal 2015. The previous guidance was 3.5% to 4.5%.

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Rodney McMullen, chairman and CEO of Kroger, commented on earnings:

We are pleased with our second quarter performance. Our core food business continued its strong performance and we benefitted from fuel margins that expanded throughout the quarter.

Our team of associates continues to drive our Customer 1st strategy by taking care of our customers in big and small ways. We continue to earn customer loyalty and gain market share.

Considering these earnings, it appears that Kroger has been gaining against its organic rival Whole Foods. Not to mention that the outlook for Kroger is brighter with this increased guidance. Kroger shares have outperformed the market over the past year and are up over 11% year to date, while Whole Foods shares are down nearly 34%.

A solid product-mix toward natural, organic and fresh items has been lifting Kroger during this time. At the same time, this product shift is favorable from a gross-margin perspective, while still addressing the healthy and natural food market.

Shares of Kroger were up 5.3% at $37.29 on Friday’s close. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $41.08 and a 52-week trading range of $25.42 to $39.43.

Whole Foods shares were down 2.3%, at $32.30 in its 52-week range of $30.18 to $57.57. The consensus price target is $38.68.

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By Chris Lange