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Stock Analyst Update

Costco's Sales Growth Remains Strong; Shares Seem Rich

The outperformance was likely a result of greater-than-expected demand for discretionary items and recovering warehouse traffic.

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We plan to lift our $332 per share valuation of wide-moat Costco (COST) by a mid-single-digit percentage after the company posted strong third-quarter (ended May 9) earnings. Its 21% revenue growth impressed considering the chain lapped the early days of the pandemic (which included significant customer stock-up activity), but we mostly attribute the results to transitory factors. So, our long-term forecast still calls for mid-single-digit percentage sales growth and 3%-4% adjusted operating margins. We suggest investors seek a more attractive entry price, particularly considering elevated uncertainty as customer habits normalize.

Costco posted 15% comparable growth excluding fuel and foreign exchange, well ahead of our 8% target, with the outperformance likely a result of greater-than-expected demand for discretionary items and recovering warehouse traffic (stimulus likely also played a role). Costco’s 3.7% operating margin was about 50 basis points higher than its prior-year mark and our estimate, reflecting cost leverage and reduced pandemic-related expenditures.

We are encouraged that around 70% of orders of big, bulky items (generally higher-value items like furniture, exercise equipment, and electronics) are being fulfilled by Costco Logistics, which the company purchased in early 2020. We believe the shift to in-house fulfillment will lift the profitability of orders of such goods as well as delivery times and customer service levels. We also believe these larger items remain an opportunity for Costco to benefit from rising e-commerce penetration, allowing for a broader assortment than what is available in-warehouse. While we continue to expect that the core of the value proposition will remain in-store (as much of Costco’s assortment skews toward bulky, low-priced consumer goods that are difficult to ship economically), we support the company’s targeted investments in expanding its digital capabilities, which also include its growing online grocery offering.

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Zain Akbari does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.