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Tax Drop Boosts Kroger Profit

Earnings rise 18%, as a lower tax rate offsets declining margins.
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Kroger (KR) reported an 18% jump in third-quarter earnings, helped by strong sales growth and lower tax costs.

The Cincinnati-based grocer's earnings rose to $253.8 million, or 37 cents a share, from $214.7 million, or 30 cents a share, a year earlier. Sales climbed to $16.14 billion from $14.7 billion the prior year.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial projected earnings of 35 cents a share and sales of $15.66 billion.

Identical-store sales rose 7.7% including fuel, and 5.7% without fuel. These figures represent sales at supermarkets that have been open for five full quarters without expansion or relocation.

Kroger said its bottom line was boosted by the resolution of certain tax issues. Its tax expense for the quarter fell 36% to $81.8 million from $127.2 million a year earlier.

The tax lift was partially offset by a drop in gross margins, due in part to declining fuel margins.

Kroger now expects earnings for the full fiscal year to exceed its previous guidance of $1.64 to $1.67 a share, including the effect of the lower third-quarter tax rate and a higher estimated inventory-related accounting charge.

Analysts, on average, are looking for fiscal-year earnings of $1.71 a share.

Kroger anticipates identical-store sales growth of 5% for the full year, excluding fuel sales. The company reiterated its longer-term forecast for 3% to 5% identical-store sales growth beyond this year.

Shares of Kroger were down 78 cents, or 2.8%, to $27.56 early Tuesday.