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Stock Analyst Update

Sluggish Quarter Doesn't Change Our Outlook for Kroger

We'll trim our fair value estimate a tad, but our long-term forecast is intact.

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Our $31 fair value estimate for narrow-moat  Kroger (KR) should fall by the midsingle digits after we trim our near-term targets in the wake of second-quarter results. However, we still expect the firm's transformation effort will yield improved long-term profitability versus fiscal 2017's 1.7% operating margin. As we expect slow first-half profitability gains are a result of transitory and timing-related factors, our long-term forecast for low-single-digit revenue growth and operating margins over the next decade is intact. While our take on the valuation implications of Kroger's quarterly results is more conservative than the trading reaction to the news (we believe partly because we had been somewhat more pessimistic about fiscal 2018 revenue and adjusted EPS than prevailing sentiment), we still suggest investors await a more attractive entry point.

In the quarter, revenue rose 1.0% on 1.6% identical-supermarket sales growth (without fuel). For the first half, sales increased 2.4% against 35 basis points of operating margin expansion (to 2.4%), with top-line results ahead of our 0.5% estimated full-year decline but profitability short of our 60-basis-point targeted uptick. Management maintained its fiscal 2018 EPS target at $2.00-$2.15 against our $2.10 expectation.

We attribute the profitability shortfall to transitory and timing-related factors. We concur with management's indications that price cuts and space optimization efforts that were pulled forward likely weighed on earnings, but we expect such initiatives to boost future results. With customers increasingly demanding an omnichannel experience including a high-quality in-store environment and numerous order-fulfillment options, we applaud management's focus on bolstering its delivery, click-and-collect, and ship-to-home offerings. Still, we believe competitive dynamics will limit Kroger's long-term operating margins to the low single digits even after the investments bear fruit.

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