Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. says its net income rose 41.5 per cent in the fourth quarter as growth and acquisitions fuelled an equal growth in revenues. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alimentation Couche-Tard eyeing more acquisitions after blockbuster year

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is looking for new acquisitions following a blockbuster year that made it Canada’s largest company by revenues, the convenience store operator said Tuesday.

“I’d say M&A (mergers and acquisitions) continues to remain a core part of our strategy,” CEO Brian Hannasch said in a conference call.

Hannasch said consolidation in the U.S. convenience store market is very active but sellers are seeking very high selling prices.

“We remain active in Asia to find the right management team, the right network for new growth platform in that part of the world.”

The company has reduced its debt and will soon be in a more comfortable position, he added.

“We, at the same time, remain committed to be disciplined in our buying, and we remain committed to have a balance sheet ready for the right opportunity when it arises.”

The North American convenience store giant based in Laval, Que., reported Monday its net income rose 41.5 per cent in the fourth quarter as growth and acquisitions fuelled an equal jump in revenues.

The company, which reports in U.S. dollars, earned $392.7 million or 70 cents per diluted share for the 12-week period ended April 29. That compared with $277.6 million or 49 cents per share in what was a 13-week period a year ago.

Revenues rose to $13,614.8 billion, from $9.62 billion a year ago.

On an adjusted basis, Couche-Tard said it earned $336 million or 59 cents per share.

The company was expected to earn 55 cents per share on an adjusted basis, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Couche-Tard also increased its quarterly dividend by 11.1 per cent to 10 cents per share to shareholders of record as of July 18 for payment on Aug. 1.

Its shares gained 6.4 per cent at C$60.65 in afternoon trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The company said it has US$666.2 million in cash and about US$1.1 billion available through its revolving credit facilities to provide it with “ample flexibility to fund future investments.”

Couche-Tard, which operates mainly under the Circle K banner, said it expanded to 48 out of 50 U.S. states and added more than 2,100 stores through new openings and acquisitions.

It now has more than 12,700 stores and 130,000 employees in North America and Europe.

The past year has been notable with its purchase of CST Brands and Holiday for a total estimated price of US$6 billion. Acquisitions added an extra $8.7 billion in revenues in the past year, mainly from fuel sales.

Fuel volumes from existing locations in Canada decreased 2.9 per cent in the quarter. Hannasch said he hopes this summer’s launch of a loyalty program at Esso locations in Quebec and Ontario in partnership with Loblaws and Shoppers will drive more customers into its convenience stores.

Analyst Keith Howlett of Desjardins Capital Markets said the results marked an improvement in same-store merchandise sales growth trends compared to other retailers.

Sales for existing stores — a key retail metric — were up 1.8 per cent in the U.S., 4.3 per cent in Europe and 3.6 per cent in Canada.

“The strong sales results were achieved without erosion of gross margin rate.”

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