Continued expansion and slight price inflation helped Publix Super Markets post revenue and comparable-store sales gains in the fourth quarter and fiscal year ended Dec. 28.
Sales in the quarter increased by 3.8% to $9.3 billion with comps improving by 1.1%. For the year, the Lakeland, Fla.-based retailer’s sales increased by 4.4% to $36.1 billion, with comps increasing by 2.1%.
In its annual report, Publix said its sales gains would be stronger were it not lapping the benefits of a sales increase related to Hurricane Irma in 2017. Excluding that event, Publix estimates annual sales would have increased by 5.2% and comps by 2.9%
For the fiscal year, Publix benefited from 44 net new stores and a total square footage increase of 3.9%. During the fiscal year, Publix opened 51 new stores—including eight replacement stores—and closed seven locations. Publix also remodeled 146 stores during the year and had 23 stores under construction at the end of its fiscal year.
“Our fourth-quarter results were impacted by an accounting rule change in 2018 and a one-time adjustment due to the Tax Act in 2017. Excluding these items, our net earnings were strong in the fourth quarter,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a statement. “Our associates continue to provide legendary service to our customers.”
Gross margin as a percent of sales was 27.1% for the year, down from 27.3% last year, and operating profit as a percent of sales was 7.6%, down from 7.9% last year. The decrease in operating profit was related to the margin decline and higher expenses, primarily for payroll, the company said.
In the fourth quarter, net earnings of $407 million were down by 46.9% on accounting changes and lapping last year’s federal tax benefit; excluding those items, earnings were $660.3 million, a 21.7% increase. Net earnings for the year were $2.4 billion or $3.28 per share.
Publix’s stock price increased from $42.70 per share to $42.85 per share March 1. Publix stock is not publicly traded and is made available for sale only to current Publix associates and members of its board of directors.