Kroger reports positive Q4 results, 'cautious' with 2010 forecast

CINCINNATI Fourth-quarter sales for Kroger increased 7.2% to $18.6 billion compared with the year-ago period, the largest traditional grocery retailer announced Tuesday.

Kroger -- which boasts itself as having several banners across 31 states -- said that excluding fuel sales, total sales for the quarter increased 2%, while same-store sales increased 1.2% over the prior year.

Meanwhile, quarterly net earnings dropped to $255.4 million, or 39 cents per share, from $349.2 million, or 53 cents per share.

"The Kroger team delivered solid fourth-quarter results for both our customers and our shareholders during what continues to be a difficult operating environment. We are strengthening Kroger's overall competitive position by increasing the number of households that are loyal to Kroger and earning a greater share of their business," said David Dillon, Kroger's chairman and CEO.

For fiscal 2009, total sales for Kroger increased 0.8% to $76.7 billion, compared with fiscal 2008. Excluding fuel sales, total sales for fiscal 2009 increased 2.9%, and identical supermarket sales rose 2.1% compared with the prior fiscal year.

Despite solid results for the close of 2009, Kroger said it is "cautious" with its 2010 forecast because the pace of economic recovery is uncertain. Kroger said it anticipates identical supermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, of 2% to 3%.  Net earnings are expected to range from $1.60 to $1.80 per diluted share.  Kroger's quarterly dividend enhances total shareholder return by approximately 1.5% to 2%.

"During a year that proved to be extremely trying, Kroger successfully achieved positive identical sales growth, increased the number of households loyal to Kroger stores, and generated strong tonnage growth. In addition, we reduced debt, increased the dividend we pay shareholders and prudently invested capital to keep our stores fresh and innovative," Dillon said.  "Kroger's strategy generates value in good times and bad. We believe Kroger will continue to be in the best position to deliver shareholder value now and as the economy improves."