Safeway Q2 2010 Earnings Call Transcript - TheStreet

Safeway Q2 2010 Earnings Call Transcript

Safeway Q2 2010 Earnings Call Transcript
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Safeway (SWY)

Q2 2010 Earnings Call

July 22, 2010 11:00 am ET

Executives

Melissa Plaisance - Senior Vice President of Finance & Investor Relations

Robert Edwards - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Steven Burd - Executive Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President and Chairman of Executive Committee

Analysts

Alex Bisson - Northcoast Research

Edward Kelly - Crédit Suisse AG

Meredith Adler - Barclays Capital

Scott Mushkin - Jefferies & Company, Inc.

Mark Wiltamuth - Morgan Stanley

Karen Short - BMO Capital Markets U.S.

Todd Duvick - Bank of America Corporation

Deborah Weinswig - Citigroup Inc

Robert Ohmes - BofA Merrill Lynch

Damian Witkowski - Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Andrew Wolf - BB&T Capital Markets

Neil Currie - UBS Investment Bank

Presentation

Question-and-Answer Session

Steven Burd

Compare to:
Previous Statements by SWY
» Safeway Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript
» Safeway, Inc. Q4 2009 Earnings Call Transcript
» Safeway, Inc. Q3 2009 Earnings Call Transcript

Well, keep in mind that we're not going to do anything to harm our competitive price position. And I think that what we're seeing with us an extra price reduction that took place because of parity in the third and fourth quarter. So I think that these things just happened, they happened kind of naturally. I mean when beef costs went up, people didn't hesitate to reflect those at retail. Now that does create a little bit of a shift with consumers and what they choose to buy, and that's how consumers typically adapt to this. But the consumers have had a very good two years in the retail food world, and this is a thin-margin business. So I think, frankly, one of the first sectors to reflect the kind of cost inflation that's been occurring but not reflected at retail will in fact be this sector, and it's a sector that people have to buy in every week. And it may create in the near-term an acceleration in private label, but I think you will see a return to normal. You may not see full normalcy until late in 2011. I'm not going to try to predict that now. But I think you can only go so long and you're going to see a lot of retail -- you can see it in stores when you go out, but you will see, I think, liquidations and bankruptcies, and deteriorating store conditions in some of the smaller regional players. Think about our volume as building against all competitors in a down economy, so we're taking that from people that don't have our cost-reduction capability. So we're starting to build market share.

Neil Currie - UBS Investment Bank

In terms of that volume increase that you're seeing, are you seeing it build on a two-year basis? Is this just a reflection of negative volumes you're seeing or are you generally saying two-year basis?

Steven Burd

No. If you did two-year stack, the two-year numbers are getting better.

Neil Currie - UBS Investment Bank

I didn't quite catch fully what you said about, you could've cut guidance by $0.30 but you cut by $0.15".

Steven Burd

I'm glad you asked that. I said that it's not that we could've cut, it's basically the mathematical effect of 160-basis point change in price per item would yield a $0.30 reduction in EPS, much like last year. Recall, we stepped up our cost reduction effort last year. It was a record year. And we stepped it up in excess of 40% in response to last year's deflation. So we're stepping it up again. One of the opportunities for us that exists for a lot of retailers, you hate to confess to this, we've trimmed our shrink by almost $600 million over the last eight years. We still have almost $1 billion worth of shrink. And so what we're doing is we're reinventing our approach to shrink as a major opportunity, being careful not to impair volume growth, and so that becomes a real source of opportunity here. So since we have those opportunities, we should exploit those. And it moderates what would otherwise be a bigger earnings effect.

Operator

Our next question comes from Karen Short.

Karen Short - BMO Capital Markets U.S.

So we could dig in to volume improvements little bit, can you give some color around what you're seeing in perishables and non-perishable volumes? And I think if I look at 2Q last year, non-perishable volume was down quite a bit, but maybe a little color on that. And maybe if you can break that down into the U.S. and Canada.

Steven Burd

Well, I can't break it down between U.S. and Canada, but consistent with what we've really said now for several quarters, the volume improvements are being led by perishable category. But the volume improvements have not left out the non-perishable category. So both categories are improving. The non-perishable category, elements of it are quite positive. Other elements are still negative. In the perishable category, universally improving, universally positive volume.

Karen Short - BMO Capital Markets U.S.

And I guess what is your outlook going forward, I mean, to the extent that you might get more support from vendors going forward? A, do you think that's happening? And B, do you think that could help drive non-perishable volumes, at least into positive territory?

Steven Burd

Well, I think that we always welcome increased vendor support. I mean if you just think about it logically, and vendors are pretty logical, if you can drive the business, you get more support. So they're not just saying, "Hey, here's some money. Please have a good time." Basically, so we don't sit here and try to figure out necessarily how we get more vendor support. We try to cooperate with vendors, and as we build our business and their business, they are more supportive. But we don't have anything planned here in the back half for some big money flying our way from the vendor community. We think that everybody sees what we're doing, I think, generally pleased that momentum has really picked up and that generally yields better vendor support.

Karen Short - BMO Capital Markets U.S.

And I guess in the past, you've talked a little bit about the customer perception on price. I guess you refer to it as “winning the survey versus actually getting the traffic”. Can you talk a little bit about where you stand?

Steven Burd

I don't have an update for you on winning the survey, although I think the volume numbers kind of speak for themselves. I do think that it depends on what you do in a specific market. In some markets, I think where we might've made larger price changes and if those markets tended to be more price-sensitive, and I could think of a couple that are, we’re much closer to winning the survey in those markets that we're already winning our highest volume changes. And so if you really think about -- it's always been true that the foot traffic and the volume comes first, the survey comes second. And it could take you in some markets as much as four or five years to win the survey. The survey is nice. I'll take the volume any day. If I had to choose one to win and one to lose, I would choose to win on volume every day and not necessarily be perceived as the best-price guy. But we’re improving both price perception, which takes a while to get that message across, you pound on it. But consumers are smart. When you lower prices, they detect it. And when lower prices on items that have high purchase frequency, they detect those sooner and they reward you accordingly.

Karen Short - BMO Capital Markets U.S.

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I think when you reported your first quarter, you'd indicated that all your divisions were positive for the four weeks of the second quarter. Did that remain the case throughout the second quarter? And is that the case in the third quarter in the U.S.?

Steven Burd

Yes, I don't recall saying all divisions were positive in the third quarter. I could tell you that from a U.S.-volume standpoint today, 4 ½ weeks into the third quarter, all divisions are positive.

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