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Staples 2Q Earnings Leap 36%, Sales Rise 5.2%

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Staples Inc.'s (SPLS) fiscal second-quarter earnings jumped 36% as the office-supply giant posted improved sales and earnings that exceeded its own forecast. Looking ahead, Staples updated its full-year guidance to exclude a tax refund, calling for earnings of $1.39 to $1.45 a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters currently anticipate $1.36 a share. Pointing to the current quarter, Staples forecast unadjusted earnings of 46 cents to 48 cents a share on a sales increase in the low single-digits. Analysts most recently expected a 46-cent per-share profit and $6.67 billion in sales, which represents a 2% increase, according to a Thomson Reuters poll. Office suppliers have struggled as consumers and businesses rein in spending and governments cut budgets. Last month, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered its outlook on Staples to stable from positive, forecasting tough competition in the year ahead. Yet the credit rater's BBB rating on Staples, two notches above junk territory, still tops the junk-level stance taken on fellow office-supply firms Office Depot Inc. (ODP) and OfficeMax Inc. (OMX), which S&P has said are particularly susceptible to a weakening economy. In July, Office Depot reported its second-quarter loss widened as a decline in same-store sales dampened top-line growth, while OfficeMax earlier this month reported it swung to a second-quarter loss amid charges for store closures and severance. For the quarter ended July 30, Staples posted a profit of $176.4 million, or 25 cents a share, up from $129.8 million, or 18 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding items such as a $21 million cash tax refund, adjusted earnings rose to 22 cents from 20 cents a year ago. Sales improved 5.2% to $5.82 billion. The company had previously forecast unadjusted earnings of 18 cents to 20 cents a share and sales to be "flat to slightly positive." Gross margin edged up to 26.5% from 26.4%. North American delivery sales rose 3.1%, helped in part by double-digit sales growth in facilities and breakroom supplies. North American retail sales improved 1.7% while international sales jumped 15%. Shares closed Tuesday at $14.22 and were inactive in recent premarket trading. Through the latest close, the stock is down 38% so far this year. -By Mia Lamar, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3207; mia.lamar@dowjones.com

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