Kroger Profit Beats Street; Outlook Raised

Kroger Co. (KR) said Tuesday its first-quarter earnings rose 12 percent, beating Wall Street expectations by a wide margin, and the supermarket chain also boosted its fiscal 2005 profit guidance by 3 cents per share.

Kroger shares climbed $1.06, or 6 percent, to $18.75 on the New York Stock Exchange (search) Tuesday after closing Monday at $17.69.

At the end of the first quarter, Cincinnati-based Kroger operated 2,524 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 32 states under names such as Kroger, Ralphs (search), Fred Meyer (search), Food 4 Less (search), King Soopers (search), Smith's and Smith's Marketplace, Fry's and Fry's Marketplace, Dillons, QFC and City Market.

The company's fiscal first quarter net income rose to $294.3 million, or 40 cents per share, from $262.8 million, or 35 cents per share, a year ago. Total sales increased 6.2 percent to $17.95 billion from $16.9 billion last year. Sales at stores with gas stations open at least a year grew 3.8 percent. Same-store sales at stores without gas stations grew 2.4 percent.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for a lower profit of 34 cents per share on sales of $17.65 billion in the latest quarter.

Looking ahead, the company raised its earnings estimate for fiscal 2005, now forecasting profit will exceed $1.24 per share. Kroger said it expects 2005 earnings per share growth to be fueled by continued progress in Southern California, improved results from the rest of the company, lower interest expense, and fewer shares outstanding as a result of stock buybacks.

Analysts on average are predicting full-year earnings of $1.23 per share.