Costco Profit Up 30 Percent, Beats Estimates

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Costco Wholesale posted a 30 percent rise in quarterly profit, beating expectations, as the largest U.S. warehouse club chain saw sales rise and got a lift from higher membership fees.

Costco earned $416 million, or 95 cents per share, in its fiscal first quarter that ended in November, compared with $320 million,or 73 cents per share, last year. Quarterly net sales rose 9.5 percent to $23.2 billion. Analysts, on average, were expectingfirst-quarter earnings of 93 cents per share, before special items, on revenue of $23.7 billion,according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Comparable store sales rose 7 percent, including the impact of fuel prices. Excluding the impact of fuel and foreign currencies, Costco recorded comparable store sales of 6 percent for the quarter. Membership fee revenue rose 14.3 percent to $511 million, Costco said.

The Issaquah, Washington-based chain raised fees for most U.S.and Canadian members 10 percent on Nov. 1. Members pay up to $110 per year to shop at Costco's cavernous stores and on its website where they can buy everything from carrots to kayaks. The fee revenue pads Costco's bottom line and allows it to offer low prices and take in thin profit margins on items it sells.

Costco said it planned to open one additional new warehouse in South Korea before the end 2012. It currently operates 621 warehouses,including 448 in the United States and Puerto Rico, 85 in Canada, 32 in Mexico, and 23 in Britain.

On Nov. 28, Costco announced a $7 special dividend, set to be paid later this month. The special dividend amounted to roughly $3 billion, the largest payout so far from any company ahead of a likely increase in the U.S.dividend tax. The warehouse club operator will use proceeds from a $3.5 billion debt offering to pay for the dividend.

Costco shareholders have seen a total return of 51 percent since end-September 2008, compared with 35 percent for the Standard& Poor's 500 index.