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Fastenal Company Reports 2010 Fourth Quarter And Annual Earnings

Gross profit percentage for 2010 increased from 2009, and the gross profit percentage for 2009 decreased from 2008. 

The gross profit percentage in the first, second, third and fourth quarters was as follows:
  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
2010 51.1% 52.1% 51.8% 52.0%
2009 52.9% 51.1% 50.0% 49.9%
2008 52.4% 52.5% 52.9% 53.4%

The fluctuations in our gross profit percentages are typically driven by: (1) transactional gross profit, (2) organizational gross profit, and (3) vendor incentive gross profit. The transactional gross profit represents the gross profit realized due to the day-to-day fluctuations in customer pricing relative to product and freight costs. This component was negatively influenced by the competitive landscape in 2009 which depressed the prices we could charge for our products.  This component has generally improved since August 2009, except for customer mix which is discussed later. The organizational gross profit represents the component of gross profit we attribute to buying scale and efficiency gains. This component was negatively influenced by deflationary impacts in 2009 as we were selling inventory sourced at peak costs late in 2008. This component was magnified in 2009 due to the nature of our inventory turns and the dramatic decrease in sales activity during much of the year. However, this component improved in the first, second, third, and fourth quarters of 2010 when compared to the fourth quarter of 2009. The third component relates to vendor volume allowances. The gross profit dollars associated with this component dropped dramatically in the second half of 2009. However, this component improved in the first, second, third, and fourth quarters of 2010 when compared to the fourth quarter of 2009. In our second quarter 2010 earnings release, we indicated our belief that the first two components would continue to improve as we progress into the remainder of 2010. This belief was based on (1) our focused effort to raise our transactional margin and (2) the bias which we believed existed for some inflation in 2010 rather than the significant deflation we experienced in 2009. In the third quarter of 2010, our assumptions about the latter half of the year were proven wrong and these two components had a negative impact on gross profit percentage. We continued to struggle with the first component in the fourth quarter, but did see some improvement in the second component due to the expansion of inventory depth which decreased the need for 'fill in' buys which carry a cost premium. The decrease in gross profit percentage, from the second quarter of 2010 to the third and fourth quarters of 2010 was primarily caused by the strong growth of our industrial production business; which resulted in a change in our overall business mix. The industrial production business has a lower gross margin; therefore, the change in mix pulled our gross margin down. (However, since the operating expenses of our industrial production business are lower, operating income produced by that business is similar to our overall business.) The second cause was the relative lack of inflation in the third and fourth quarters. Finally, as we indicated in our second quarter earnings release, vendor volume allowances largely recovered during the second quarter to the levels in place in 2008 and in early 2009 due to the reset of vendor allowance programs which tend to be calendar based. However, the fourth quarter did see some improvement in this category. Generally speaking, the decline in the gross margin percentage from 2008 to 2009 was evenly split between a deterioration in the three components discussed earlier. The improvement from 2009 to 2010 was primarily related to improvements in vendor incentive gross profit (about half of the improvement), and the balance primarily related to improvements in organizational gross profit and transactional gross profit.

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