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AutoZone 3Q Profit Rises 12% On Sales, Margin Growth

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES AutoZone Inc.'s (AZO) fiscal third-quarter earnings rose 12% as the largest U.S. auto-parts retailer booked stronger sales and margins, helping results beat analysts' expectations. Analysts have been fretting that high gasoline prices are threatening AutoZone and other retailers as consumers drive less--which gives them fewer broken parts to replace--and trade in old cars for more fuel-efficient models. Earlier this month, smaller rival Advance Auto Parts Inc. (AAP) turned in disappointing fiscal first-quarter results in contrast to the previous few quarters when profits surged as consumers bought parts to extend the lives of older cars. For the quarter ended May 7, AutoZone reported a profit of $227.4 million, or $5.29 a share, up from $202.7 million, or $4.12 a share, a year earlier. Revenue increased 8.6% to $2 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently forecast earnings of $4.98 on revenue of $1.92 billion. Gross margin rose to 51.2% from 50.7% on higher merchandise margin and lower losses from theft. Domestic same-store sales were up 5.3%. Inventory grew 8.9% amid an increase in store count. The company opened opened 43 new stores, closed one store, replaced one store in the U.S., bringing the total to 4,467. Shares of AutoZone--of which hedge-fund billionaire Edward Lampert is a major holder--closed Monday at $276.78 and were inactive premarket. The stock is up 50% in the past year. -By Tess Stynes, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481;

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