MONTREAL — Alimentation Couche-Tard capped its fiscal year with a strong fourth quarter as its Canadian operations got a boost from the full impact of its acquisition of Esso convenience stores, which helped to offset industry struggles in appealing to Hispanic and low-income Americans.
The Quebec-based convenience store and gas bar operator, whose banners include Mac's and Circle K, said its Canadian sales increased by 81 per cent from a year ago while gross profit was up 54 per cent.
Couche-Tard purchased 278 Esso-brand retail gas stations in Ontario and Quebec from Imperial Oil Canada for $1.7 billion. The deal closed in October but the full impact from the acquisition was realized in the company's fourth quarter, ended April 30.
Canada accounted for 14 per cent of Couche-Tard's global sales in the quarter, up from 10 per cent a year earlier.
Couche-Tard followed the Esso deal by adding nearly 1,300 CST Brands stores in Canada and the U.S. in a deal that closed June 28 after the company agreed to sell about 420 locations to satisfy Competition Bureau requirements.
It also acquired 53 Cracker Barrel sites in Louisiana in May and agreed this week to buy a 522-store network in the U.S. Midwest run by Holiday Stationstores in a deal valued at US$1.5 billion to US$2 billion, according to analysts.
Store traffic in the U.S. grew in the spring quarter but was not as robust as it has been in the past because the improving economy, which has helped the stock market, has not trickled down to two key convenience store shoppers, Couche-Tard CEO Brian Hannasch told investors during a conference call.
"The lower-income consumer and the Hispanic consumer is where we've, as an industry, seen a drop in traffic," he said.
"On the Hispanic side, I'm not sure if that's political uncertainty related to the election or not, but nonetheless our focus is on, again surgical promotional activity that attract that consumer."
Same-site fuel and merchandise sales grew in the U.S. at half the pace of last year and declined in Canada due to ongoing economic challenges in Western Canada.
"Canada has been soft in traffic led by the western half of the country, particularly Alberta, which has been exposed to the oil industry softness there," Hannasch said.
Overall, the company earned US$277.6-million for its fourth quarter as total revenue soared 30.1 per cent from last year to US$9.6 billion.
After excluding the impact of foreign exchange and various expense items, the company earned 52 cents per share in the 13-week quarter — up 36.8 per cent from last year, which had only 12 weeks.
Analysts had estimated US$9.4 billion of revenue and 46 cents per share of adjusted earnings, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
Couche-Tard is in the process of rebranding its stores to Circle K outside of Quebec. More than 1,300 stores in North America and 1,200 locations in Europe have changed banners so far.
For the full year, the company earned US$1.21 billion on US$37.9 billion of revenues, compared to US$1.19 billion on US$34.1 billion a year earlier.
Couche-Tard's shares (TSX:ATD.B) closed at $62.40 in Wednesday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, up $2.25 or 3.7 per cent.
Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press