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Ace Hardware Posts Q4 Sales Decline

Ace Hardware X profile 725
  • Fourth quarter revenues of $2.1 billion, a decrease of 3.0 percent
  • Full year revenues of $9.1 billion, a decrease of 0.4 percent
  • Record full year operating income of $361.1 million, an increase of 5.6 percent
  • Record patronage dividend to shareholders of $356.5 million, an increase of 3.5 percent

Ace Hardware Corporation (“Ace” or the “Company”) today reported fourth quarter 2023 revenues of $2.1 billion, a decrease of $66.7 million, or 3.0 percent, from the fourth quarter of 2022.  Net income was $0.5 million for the fourth quarter of 2023, an increase of $5.1 million from a net loss of $4.6 million for the fourth quarter of 2022.  

Full year revenues were $9.1 billion, a decrease of $38.7 million, or 0.4 percent, from 2022 revenue.  Net income for fiscal 2023 was $323.4 million, a decrease of $17.2 million, from fiscal 2022 when the Company recorded a non-recurring gain of $21.7 million on the sale of a former Retail Support Center.    

“I’m pleased to announce record operating income, record shareholder distributions, and record contributions to our charitable foundation,” said John Venhuizen, President and CEO.  “With shareholder dividends of $356.5 million and pre-tax return on equity of 38.7 percent, the Ace team is to be commended for the discipline, production, and stewardship with which they managed our resources and opportunities.”

“While Q4 revenue was disappointing, the miss is entirely a result of lower sales on winter goods as a result of a particularly mild December.” said Venhuizen.

The approximately 3,700 domestic Ace stores that share daily sales data reported a 5.2 percent decrease in retail same-store-sales during the fourth quarter of 2023, which was the result of a 3.2 percent decrease in same-store transactions and a 2.0 percent decrease in average ticket.  For the full year, retail same-store-sales decreased 2.2 percent, which was the result of a 1.1 percent decrease in same-store transactions and a 1.0 percent decrease in average ticket.    

Revenues

Fourth Quarter

Consolidated revenues for the three months ended December 30, 2023 totaled $2.1 billion.  Total wholesale revenues were $1.9 billion, a decrease of $59.8 million, or 3.0 percent, as compared to the prior year fourth quarter.  Decreases were seen across a majority of departments with plumbing, outdoor power equipment, and grilling showing the largest declines. 

Wholesale merchandise revenues to new domestic Ace stores activated from January 2022 through December 2023 contributed $38.6 million of incremental revenues during the fourth quarter of 2023, while wholesale merchandise revenues decreased $9.0 million during the fourth quarter due to domestic Ace stores whose memberships were cancelled.  Wholesale merchandise revenues to comparable domestic Ace stores decreased $126.4 million for the quarter.  The Company’s Ace Hardware International Holdings, Ltd. (“AIH”) subsidiary experienced a $0.6 million decrease in wholesale revenue versus the fourth quarter of 2022, while Ace Wholesale Holdings LLC (“AWH”) reported a $5.7 million decrease in wholesale revenues from the fourth quarter of 2022.  The Company’s Ace Services Holdings LLC (“ASH”) subsidiary, which is reported as part of the Company’s wholesale business, experienced a $41.1 million increase in wholesale revenues from the fourth quarter of 2022.  This is primarily due to the acquisition of Unique Indoor Comfort Holdings, LLC (“UICH”) during the second quarter of 2023, which contributed $40.0 million of incremental revenues during the fourth quarter of 2023. 

Total retail revenues from Ace Retail Holdings LLC (“ARH”) for the quarter were $182.6 million, a decrease of $6.9 million, or 3.6 percent, as compared to the prior year fourth quarter.  The Westlake Ace Hardware (“Westlake”) chain experienced a 6.1 percent decrease in same-store-sales while the Great Lakes Ace Hardware (“GLA”) chain experienced a 10.1 percent decrease in same-store-sales in the quarter.  The new stores opened by Westlake and GLA since the third quarter of 2022 contributed $6.2 million of incremental revenues during the fourth quarter of 2023.  Westlake and GLA together operated 235 stores at the end of the fourth quarter of 2023 compared to 222 stores at the end of the fourth quarter of 2022.

Fiscal Year

Consolidated revenues for fiscal 2023 totaled $9.1 billion, a decrease of $38.7 million, or 0.4 percent, as compared to the prior year.  Total wholesale revenues were $8.3 billion, a decrease of $27.6 million, or 0.3 percent, as compared to the prior year.  Decreases were seen across many departments with plumbing, grilling, and outdoor power equipment showing the largest declines. 

Wholesale merchandise revenues from new domestic Ace stores were $207.2 million in fiscal 2023.  This increase was partially offset by a decrease in wholesale merchandise revenues of $43.5 million due to domestic Ace store cancellations.  Wholesale merchandise revenues to comparable domestic Ace stores decreased $333.8 million in fiscal 2023 compared to fiscal 2022.  AIH wholesale revenues decreased $7.6 million compared to the prior year, while AWH wholesale revenues decreased $20.1 million compared to the prior year.  ASH wholesale revenues increased $109.0 million, primarily due to the acquisition of UICH, which contributed $99.5 million of incremental revenues in fiscal 2023.  

Total retail revenues were $786.4 million, a decrease of $11.1 million, or 1.4 percent, as compared to the prior year.  Retail revenues were negatively impacted by the closure of The Grommet during the third quarter of 2022, resulting in the absence of revenues from Ace Ecommerce Holdings LLC (“AEH”) in 2023 compared with $10.5 million in the prior year.  ARH revenues decreased $0.6 million or 0.1 percent from the prior year.  The Westlake chain experienced a 1.8 percent decrease in same-store-sales while the GLA chain experienced a 4.2 percent decrease in same-store-sales in fiscal 2023.  The new stores opened by Westlake and GLA in 2022 and 2023 contributed $17.8 million of incremental revenues during fiscal 2023. 

Ace added 203 new domestic stores in fiscal 2023 and cancelled 76 stores.  This brought the Company’s total domestic store count to 4,994 at the end of fiscal 2023, an increase of 127 stores from the end of fiscal 2022.  On a worldwide basis, Ace added 222 stores in fiscal 2023 and cancelled 98, bringing the worldwide store count to 5,870 at the end of fiscal 2023.

Gross Profit

Fourth Quarter

Wholesale gross profit for the three months ended December 30, 2023 was $226.5 million, an increase of $44.8 million from the fourth quarter of 2022.  The wholesale gross margin percentage was 11.7 percent of wholesale revenues in the fourth quarter of 2023, up from 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022.  The increase in the wholesale gross margin percentage was primarily due to a decrease in LIFO expense driven by moderating inflation and lower inventory levels as well as the higher margin rate associated with the ASH business.        

Retail gross profit for the three months ended December 30, 2023 was $83.9 million, an increase of $1.6 million from the fourth quarter of 2022.  The retail gross margin percentage was 45.9 percent of retail revenues in the fourth quarter of 2023, up from 43.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022.  The increase in retail gross margin percentage primarily resulted from vendor funds earned related to new store openings.  For ARH, retail gross profit is based on the Company’s wholesale acquisition cost of product, not ARH’s acquisition cost which includes a markup from the Company.

Fiscal Year

Wholesale gross profit for fiscal 2023 was $1.1 billion, an increase of $118.1 million from fiscal 2022.  The wholesale gross margin percentage was 13.4 percent of wholesale revenues in fiscal 2023, up from 12.0 percent in fiscal 2022.  The increase in the wholesale gross margin percentage was primarily due to a reversal of LIFO from an expense in fiscal 2022 when vendor prices were rising, to LIFO income in fiscal 2023 when inflation moderated and inventory levels declined.    

Retail gross profit for fiscal 2023 was $356.3 million, a decrease of $1.6 million from fiscal 2022.  The retail gross margin percentage was 45.3 percent of retail revenues in fiscal 2023, up from 44.9 percent in fiscal 2022.  The increase in retail gross margin percentage primarily resulted from vendor funds earned related to new store openings.  For ARH, retail gross profit is based on the Company’s wholesale acquisition cost of product, not ARH’s acquisition cost which includes a markup from the Company.

 Expenses and Other

Fourth Quarter

Wholesale operating expenses increased $34.3 million, or 17.3 percent, from the fourth quarter of 2022.  The increase is primarily due to the acquisition of UICH, which added $24.5 million of incremental operating expenses, higher compensation benefit expense and increased lease expense driven by additional warehouse space.  As a percentage of wholesale revenues, wholesale operating expenses increased to 12.0 percent of wholesale revenues in the fourth quarter of 2023 from 9.9 percent of wholesale revenues in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Retail operating expenses increased $0.1 million, or 0.1 percent, from the fourth quarter of 2022.  Retail operating expenses as a percentage of retail revenue increased to 37.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023 from 36.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022.  

Interest expense increased $5.7 million from the fourth quarter of 2022 due to increased borrowings for the acquisition of UICH and higher interest rates. 

Other (expense) income, net decreased $2.4 million from the fourth quarter of 2022 primarily due to $8.6 million of expenses incurred related to a cybersecurity incident that took place during the fourth quarter of 2023, partially offset by an increase in gains recognized on investments.

Fiscal Year

Wholesale operating expenses increased $100.6 million, or 13.8 percent, in fiscal 2023 as compared to fiscal 2022.  The increase is primarily due to the acquisition of UICH, which added $49.5 million of incremental operating expenses in fiscal 2023, increased lease expense driven by additional warehouse space, increased marketing and advertising expenses, increased depreciation expense and higher health insurance expenses.  As a percentage of wholesale revenues, wholesale operating expenses increased to 10.0 percent in fiscal 2023 from 8.7 percent in fiscal 2022.

Retail operating expenses decreased $7.4 million, or 2.6 percent, in fiscal 2023 as compared to fiscal 2022.  This decrease was driven by the closure of The Grommet during the third quarter of 2022, resulting in the absence of operating expenses from AEH in fiscal 2023.  Retail operating expenses as a percentage of retail revenue decreased to 35.6 percent in fiscal 2023 from 36.1 percent in fiscal 2022. 

Interest expense increased $19.2 million in fiscal 2023 due to increased borrowings for the acquisition of UICH and higher interest rates. 

Other (expense) income, net decreased $27.4 million in fiscal 2023 compared to fiscal 2022.  The decrease is due to the $21.7 million non-recurring gain on sale of the Company’s Retail Support Center located in Gainesville, Georgia during 2022, coupled with $8.6 million of expenses incurred related to a cybersecurity incident that took place during the fourth quarter of 2023. 

Balance Sheet and Cash Flow

Receivables increased $23.6 million from the prior year driven by an increase in notes receivable from Ace Retailers due in future years.

Inventories decreased $68.6 million from the prior year end primarily as a result of efforts to reduce overstock inventory. 

Long-term debt, including current maturities, increased $370.2 million versus 2022.  At the end of 2023, long-term debt consisted of $331.5 million outstanding on the revolving credit facility, $30.5 million outstanding on the Westlake credit facility, and $46.3 million owed to former retailers. 

Source : Ace Hardware

Image : Ace Hardware

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15 February 2024

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