Dollar General remains top stock pick on Q4 sales growth

GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. — Though Dollar General's fourth-quarter sales growth came in at slightly below analysts' expectations, the company still is considered a good investment.

"Overall, longer term, the stock remains one of our top picks given the company's robust store growth opportunity and strong execution of its merchandising and operational initiatives," according to analysts at Bernstein Research.

Dollar General reported that fourth-quarter net sales increased 9.4% to $3.49 billion (analysts were expecting sales of $3.52 billion). Same-store sales for the quarter were up 3.8%, which was below analysts' estimates for 4.9% growth. The lower-than-expected comps growth likely was due to poor weather in January and the impact of Christmas sales shifting to Black Friday weekend, Bernstein reported. According to the company, same-store customer traffic and average transaction amounts increased in both the 2010 and 2009 periods.

“Dollar General had a great year in 2010,” said Rick Dreiling, Dollar General chairman and CEO. “While weather impacted our sales momentum in the second half of the fourth quarter, we effectively balanced our sales, delivering gross margin expansion, expense leverage and excellent financial results."

The company reported that net income for the 2010 fourth quarter was $223 million, or diluted earnings per share of 64 cents, compared with net income of $87 million, or diluted EPS 26 cents, in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009. Adjusted net income increased 30% to $226 million, or adjusted diluted EPS of 65 cents, in the 2010 fourth quarter, above adjusted net income in the 2009 fourth quarter of $173 million, or adjusted diluted EPS of 51 cents. Fourth quarter 2010 adjusted EPS includes the 2 cents per diluted share benefit, resulting from the effective resolution and release of an unrecognized tax benefit.

For the full fiscal year 2010, Dollar General reported that net sales increased 10.5% to $13.04 billion, compared with net sales of $11.8 billion in 2009. Same-store sales increased 4.9% in 2010 and 9.5% in 2009 with customer traffic and average transaction amounts contributing to the sales increases in both years.

The company reported net income of $628 million, or diluted EPS of $1.82, for fiscal year 2010, compared with net income of $339 million, or diluted EPS of $1.04, for fiscal year 2009. Adjusted net income increased 53% to $649 million, or $1.88 per diluted share, in fiscal 2010, compared with $425 million, or $1.31 per share, in 2009.

During 2010, the company opened 600 new stores and remodeled or relocated 504 stores. The company opened 500 new stores in 2009.

For fiscal 2011, Dollar General said it expects total sales to increase 11% to 13%. Same-store sales, based on a comparable 52-week period, are expected to increase 3% to 5%. Diluted EPS for the 53-week fiscal year — adjusted to exclude any losses and the related income tax effect resulting from redemption of the senior notes — is expected to be approximately $2.20 to $2.30.

Dollar General reported that it plans to open approximately 625 new stores and to remodel or relocate a total of approximately 550 stores in 2011.

“Dollar General is a strong company with a tremendous foundation for continued growth,” Dreiling said. “Our track record of executing our key initiatives over the past three years gives me confidence that the Dollar General team can successfully execute our 2011 goals."