Whole Foods (WFM) could miss on earnings estimates for the fourth quarter. And if so, Whole Foods investors will be in a whole lot of trouble.
Whole Foods reports its fiscal 2015 fourth quarter on Nov. 4 after the market close. The company could miss the quarter. Investors are looking for earnings per share of 35 cents on revenue of $3.476 billion.
Year to date the stock is down 40% on weak earnings and slowing growth. Same-store sales have been in free fall. The company started the year out with a same-store sales increase of 4.5%. But by the third quarter, comparable-store sales were just 1.3%. For the fourth quarter, Whole Foods is up against a 3.1% same-store sales figure and a two-year stacked 9% comp. I just don't see how Whole Foods can go up against last years' numbers.
And last year was nothing to brag out either. The company ended fiscal 2014 with same-store sales up 4.3%, the slowest rate in the last five years. Between 2010 and 2013, the company managed same-store sales increases between 12% and 15% a year. Yeah, 12% and 15% increases. Those days are long gone -- along with the customers. It's like turning off a faucet. Customers just stopped buying. What happened?
And then there are earnings. If you look back to the first half of 2015, Whole Foods managed to grow earnings by 10% in the first quarter and 9.8% in the second quarter. With the slowdown in momentum, I don't see how management can hit its estimates for the first half of 2016. Right now, analysts are looking for 6.7% and 7% revenue growth in the first and second quarter, respectively. But those 6% and 7% numbers look very difficult to hit when you are doing 1% to 3% in same-store sales.
Even though the stock has taken a beating, it could go lower. Right now the stock is trading around 18 times fiscal 2015 estimates and 17 times 2016. But I think next years estimates ($1.76) are too high. There's no evidence that management has been able to stop the slide.
If business continues to slow into the September quarter, Whole Foods will miss the fourth quarter and guide down for the first half of 2016. If that happens, Whole Foods will be a $20 turkey by Thanksgiving.
Whole Foods stock holders could be in for a whole lot of trouble.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.