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Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST) Stock Is the Best of a Bad Breed

In the wake of Q3 earnings, Costco stock is neither cheap nor invincible, but the retailer is showing what can happen when you do things right

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Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) at least partially redeemed the reeling retailing industry on Friday. With the echoes of disappointing first-quarter earnings reports from Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (NYSE:LOW), Chico’s FAS, Inc. (NYSE:CHS) and Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF) still ringing, Costco stock managed to put up a healthy gain on the back of Thursday evening’s release of its fiscal third-quarter numbers.

Not only did earnings roll in better than expected, same-store sales grew at an almost-heroic pace.

How was Costco able to do what so many of its peers haven’t been able to do? And, perhaps more important to current and would-be owners of COST stock, can the retailer continue its fruitful growth?

The answer to the first question is, it just strikes the right cord with consumers … one of the few retailers to find a balance between value, customer-experience and convenience.

As for the second question, yes, Costco stock can remain protected by its surprisingly wide moat.

Costco’s Q3 Earnings

For the quarter ending in early May, Costco earned $1.59 per share — or $1.40 per share on an operating basis — on revenue of $28.22 billion. While the top line missed expectations of $28.6 billion, it was still up 8% on a year-over-year basis. Profits rolled in better than the year-ago bottom line of $1.24 per share of COST, and handily beat analyst estimates of $1.30 per share.

Most impressive of all, though, was the 5% increase in same-store sales versus estimates of only 3.7% growth.

It’s a ray of hope from an otherwise-gloomy retail environment, with rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc (NYSE:WMT) being one of the few exceptions. Last quarter, Walmart topped its earnings estimates, and even mustered much-needed same store sales growth of 1.4%.

Still, Costco’s results were decidedly better than its peers. What gives?

The Same, But Different

At first glance, Costco stock more or less looks like Walmart or Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) in that all three sell basic goods and staples. Yes, Costco charges an annual membership fee, but it’s widely understand as the way it can (though not that it always does) offer lower prices.

What’s noteworthy about Costco, however, is how much of its profits — not revenue, but profits — stems from those membership fees. Last year, they accounted for 72% of the company’s bottom line, and that’s not apt to change in the foreseeable future considering more than 90% of its members renewed their membership last quarter.

In that light, Costco isn’t a retailer in the business of selling merchandise. It’s in the subscription business, selling access lower-cost shopping choices.

Consumers are savvy, nevertheless. If what was happening in its stores paled in comparison to the customer experience delivered by Target and Walmart, Costco couldn’t remain in the subscription business very long.

In that regard, Costco still does retailing right.

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