BUSINESS

Couche-Tard shares hit high on dividend hike and strong Q2 results

11/26/2013 09:14 EST | Updated 01/26/2014 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Alimentation Couche-Tard's shares hit an all-time high Tuesday after the convenience store giant reported a surge in quarterly net income amid improving consumer confidence in some U.S. states and coupled that with a decision to boost its dividend 14 per cent.

The Quebec-based company said its quarterly dividend will increase to 10 cents per share, up from 8.75 cents, payable Dec. 19 to shareholders on record as at Dec. 5.

Following the announcement, Couche-Tard's shares soared more than $4 to set a new benchmark of C$78 before falling back to close up $2.19, or nearly three per cent, at $76.17 in trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Couche-Tard, which reports in U.S. dollars, announced before markets opened that its net profit increased 27 per cent to US$229.8 million. That translated into $1.21 per share for the second-quarter ended Oct. 13, up from 97 cents per share or $181.3 million a year earlier.

Adjusting for currency fluctuations and other items, Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) earned $249 million or $1.32 per share, up $171 million or 91 cents per share from a year earlier.

Revenue decreased three per cent to $9 billion on lower fuel prices, currency translations, the sale of its Liquid Petroleum Gas business last year and fewer days of operations by Statoil Fuel & Retail in this year's results.

Still, same-store merchandise and fuel sales — a key retail measure — increased in North America and Europe.

Same-store merchandise revenues were up 3.2 per cent in Canada, 4.5 per cent in the U.S., and 1.9 per cent in Europe as merchandise gross margins exceeded 30 per cent in each area. Same-store fuel volumes increased 1.5 per cent in Canada, 1.7 per cent in the U.S. and 2.2 per cent in Europe.

Couche-Tard was expected to earn $1.22 per share in adjusted profits on $9.33 billion of revenues, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

"I'm happy of what we accomplished this quarter in terms of organic growth in both North America and in Europe," CEO Alain Bouchard said during a conference call.

He said merchandise revenues and fuel volumes were helped by the contribution of recent acquisitions and pricing strategies adopted in the first quarter to drive in-store traffic.

Chief operating officer Brian Hannasch said the company successfully used different promotional and marketing strategies to attract North American customers who remain very value conscious.

However, he said some U.S. states like Arizona, Florida and California and countries in eastern Europe that were hard hit during the recession are starting to rebound.

"There's no doubt that the economies have bottomed and are improving and consumer confidence in those markets is better," he said.

Bouchard described the acquisition environment as moderate with small opportunities in the U.S. But he foresees opportunities to buy convenience stores from large oil companies in Canada and said it has had discussions in Europe to add stores in countries adjacent to its current operations.

Irene Nattel of RBC Capital Markets said the company's tone was more cautious on acquisitions than it had been during previous conference calls.

Still, she said the company delivered strong growth, driven by initiatives to drive traffic and size of purchases and a better economic backdrop.

"The results continue trend of solid operating improvement," she wrote in a report.

Couche-Tard's long-term debt decreased by $448 million to $3.16 billion.

Couche-Tard said it realized about $13 million in pre-tax costs savings from its acquisition of Statoil Fuel & Retail in the quarter, raising annual savings to $51 million. The company continues to expect annual synergies to range between $150 million and $200 million before the end of 2015.

Alimentation Couche-Tard is one of North America's largest convenience store operators with 6,207 locations, including 4,698 stores selling fuel and more than 60,000 employees, operating under the Couche-Tard, Mac's and Circle K brands.

In Europe, it operates 2,276 Statoil Fuel & Retail stores across Scandinavia, Poland, the Baltics and Russia, with 18,500 employees.