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Q4 2023 Earnings Conference Call
spk04: Greetings and welcome to AuthorZone's fourth quarter 2023 fiscal earnings release conference call. At this time all participants are on a listen only mode and a question and answer session will follow the formal presentation. If anyone should require operator assistance during the conference please press star zero on your telephone keypad. Please note this conference is being recorded. We will now play our safe harbor statement.
spk07: Before we begin please note that today's call includes forward-looking statements that are subject to the safe harbor provisions of the private securities litigation reform act of 1995. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance. Please prefer to this morning's press release and the company's most recent annual report on form 10k and other securities exchange commission for discussion of important risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from expectations. Forward-looking statements speak only as of a date made and the company undertakes no obligations to update such statements. Today's call will also include certain non-GAAP measures. Your reconciliation of non-GAAP to GAAP financial measures can be found in our press release.
spk04: It is now my pleasure to turn the floor over to your host Mr. Bill Rhodes, CEO, Chairman, and President. Sir, the floor is yours.
spk10: Good morning and thank you for joining us today for AutoZone's 2023 fourth quarter conference call. With me today are Phil Danielle, our CEO-elect, Jamir Jackson, Chief Financial Officer, and Brian Campbell, Vice President, Treasurer Investor Relations and Tax. Regarding the fourth quarter, I hope you've had an opportunity to read our press release and learn about the quarter's results. If not, the press release along with slides complementing our comments today are available on our website .autozone.com under the Investor Relations link. Please click on quarterly earnings conference calls to see them. As we begin, we want to thank our AutoZoners for their incredible contributions during fiscal 2023 that resulted in our solid performance. As our pledge states, they continued putting our customers first, which resulted in total sales growth of .4% for the fiscal year, while earnings per share increased 12.9%. It's important to remember that these results built on the phenomenal three-year performance from the pandemic years of 2020 to 2022. Candidly, Phil, Jamir, Tom Newburn, and I felt at some point we would see our sales per store migrate closer to pre-pandemic levels. That hasn't happened, and at this stage we do not expect it will. To put it in perspective, our domestic average weekly sales per store are 33% higher than in 2019, growing from $35,600 a week to $47,300 a week. This level of growth in sales also drove enormous growth in operating profit where this year's $3.474 billion was 61% above 2019 when adjusted for the 2019-53rd week. That is remarkable growth, especially for a -year-old enterprise. We could not have achieved this success without exceptional efforts across the entire organization. We have several updates for you this morning. First, I'm sure you've noticed a new table in our press release. We are now presenting our same-store sales results for domestic, international, and total company. We're also reporting our international same-store sales, which includes both Mexico and Brazil, on both an actual and constant currency basis. Why the change? The answer is international is becoming a larger and larger part of our business, and we are investing a sizable amount of our growth capital in those countries. As we evaluate important growth metrics, we think it is important to assess it in total. As we know this is a change, we are committed to providing you with each component individually for at least five quarters, as our objective is to enhance your visibility. Next, our domestic same-store sales were .7% this quarter compared to .9% last quarter, and about half of our fiscal 2023 growth of 3.1%. Our performance in retail was respectable and generally in line with our expectations, but as was well documented last quarter, our commercial sales performance in the second half of our fiscal year declined meaningfully and to us, unacceptably. We ended with .9% growth in domestic commercial sales. Our performance in both retail and commercial in the first half of the quarter was disappointing, but during this period, we experienced very mild weather. As we reached the second half of the quarter and temperatures escalated materially, so did our sales. Specifically, for the first eight weeks of the quarter, our retail comps were flat, but increased .4% in the second half. Commercial experienced a similar trajectory, ending particularly strong in the last four weeks of the quarter of over 7%. Regarding regional results, we saw a material performance gap between the Northeast and Midwestern markets versus the rest of the country. The total comp difference was well 300 basis points and over 450 basis points for commercial. We attribute this to the lack of winter weather and snowfall in the latter part of last winter in that region. This has led to lower growth trends in undercar categories. Both those are things that, quote, happened to us, not what we did to enhance and improve our performance. Last quarter, we highlighted that we were not executing at our peak levels. We have made many changes since then and are pleased with the improvements in execution we are seeing. We aren't there yet, but we're on a really good path. We also recently completed another strategic review of our commercial business. We have validated our direction and have some exciting new enhancements that we will be testing over the next few quarters. We also made significant improvements in the information technology that we use to operate our commercial business and we opened many more commercial programs, reaching 90% domestic penetration for the first time in our history. Even more encouraging is how strong those new openings are starting and how many weeks are there just a few weeks old. Ultimately, we will operate in a favorable and unfavorable macro and weather environment. We want to share our perspectives with you so you can understand our performance, but ultimately, it is our actions that will determine our long-term success and we are encouraged by the actions we're taking. Finally, our strategy supporting our store operations and commercial teams includes several other key elements. Global new store growth, where we disappointingly didn't achieve our goals in FY23, more on that later. Continued growth with our hubs and, in particular, mega hubs where we are nearing the halfway point of our ultimate goal of having 200 mega hubs and 300 hubs. It is important to reinforce the continued very strong performance of these stores, especially the mega hubs and particularly in commercial. Reconfiguring our global supply chain to efficiently process the enhanced sales we have achieved and expect to achieve over the next decade while optimizing our processes for handling more direct import products from many countries and more challenging slow turning parts assortments that are critical to our success. Finally, continuing to lean in hard on technology improvements to make our auto zoners more knowledgeable, efficient, and effective. I've given you the high level sound bites on the quarter's results. Now, I'd like to introduce Phil Danielle to give more in-depth color on the quarter.
spk12: Phil? Thanks, Phil, and good morning, everyone. I'm honored to be participating in my first earnings release conference call. I will start by reviewing our Q4 overall same store sales, DIY versus DIFM trends, our sales cadence over the 16 weeks of the quarter, and merchandise categories that drove our performance, as well as any regional disparities. We will also share how inflation will impact our business in FY24. Our domestic same store sales were .7% this quarter on top of last year's exceptionally strong .2% growth. I do want to reiterate what Bill said a moment ago. Our execution improved materially over the quarter, and that execution, which is a hallmark of our success, will ultimately deliver better results as we move forward. Our domestic commercial business grew 3.9%. Despite lower than anticipated, we believe we grew share and set another fourth quarter record with 1.5 billion in sales. For the full year, we generated nearly 4.6 billion, up .7% from last year. Domestic commercial sales represented 30% of our domestic auto parts sales, which is identical to last year. Our commercial sales growth continues to be driven by the key initiatives we have been working on for the last several years. Improved satellite store availability, material improvements in hub and mega hub coverage, in addition to aggressive growth in the number of those types of stores. We continue to strengthen the Duralast brand with an intense focus on high quality products, and we continue to deliver technological enhancements to make us easier to do business with. We are also operating more efficiently, with improvements in delivery time and enhanced sales force effectiveness. In Q4, we opened 156 net new commercial programs, opening the majority of them late in the quarter, which had minimal impact on sales, but positions us well for FY24 and beyond. With these moves, we now have commercial in over 90% of our domestic stores. We continue to see tremendous opportunity for commercial sales growth in FY24 and beyond. We are also very proud of our performance in domestic DIY. We had a positive .4% comp this quarter, on top of last year's comp of 1.1%. Additionally, for the year, we delivered .8% DIY on top of a .9% DIY comp last fiscal year, and an .2% comp in FY21. These results are very solid considering the outsize growth we saw during the pandemic. The fact that we continue to retain the vast majority of the share we built during the pandemic, and our recent performance, gives us continued conviction about the sustainability into FY24. Now let's focus on the sales cadence. Over the quarter, which spans 16 weeks, early May through the end of August, as Bill mentioned, our same store sales were flat over the first weeks, but increased to .4% over the last eight weeks. We were encouraged by the trends we saw as the quarter ended. Regarding weather, in May and June, we experienced cooler and wetter weather trends across the country, which negatively impacted our sales trends. By July, however, it became very hot across much of the country, and it remained very hot through August. The heat and the associated rebound in sales helped us partially overcome a relatively mild winter, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast, where weather sensitive hard part categories underperformed our expectation. We anticipate that the summer heat will give us some positive momentum as we head into fall. As a reminder, historically, extreme weather, either hot or cold, drives parts failures and accelerated maintenance. Regarding the quarter's traffic versus ticket growth, in retail, our traffic was down 0.8%, while our ticket was up 2%. Our transaction count improved as the quarter went along, and in fact, turned positive over the last eight weeks of the quarter. However, the average ticket being up only 2% was the weakest quarterly increase we've seen since FY 2000, as we lapped significantly higher inflation a year ago, where the ticket was up 8%. Regarding commercial trends, we continue to see traffic and ticket growth, but our commercial ticket growth, just like retail, has shown a marked deceleration compared to recent history as hyperflation begins to abate. For perspective, our ticket growth was 11% in Q4 last year versus roughly 2% this year. As expected, some of our commercial customers are experiencing trade down and lower car counts as the consumer comes under economic pressure. In order to continue to grow our comps in 24, we will have to continue to increase share of wallet with our customers. The share data we see continues to encourage us that we are gaining share in the industry despite the macro trends, but recently not in line with our aspirations, which we intend to change. During the quarter, there were some geographic regions that did perform differently than others, as there always are. This quarter, we saw a material 315 basis point difference between the Northeast and the Midwest compared to the balance of the country, with the Northeast and the Midwest performing lower. As the Northeast and the Midwest experienced very mild winter with below average snowfall, we have seen less weather sensitive hard parts in this part of the country. Heading into the first quarter of the new fiscal year, we are not anticipating that weather will have a significant impact on sales. Regarding our merchandise categories in the retail business, our sales floor categories outperformed our hard part categories, and our hard part business was essentially flat for the quarter. As I said previously, weather sensitive hard parts were clearly impacted by the milder winter weather, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast. Let me also address inflation and pricing. This quarter, we saw low single-digit inflation, and as a result, our ticket average was up roughly 2%. We believe inflation for the first quarter will be similar to the fourth quarter as the industry is migrating back to pre-pandemic inflation levels and lapping high inflation from a year ago. I want to reiterate that our industry has been very disciplined about pricing for decades, and we expect that to continue. Historically, as costs have increased, the industry has increased pricing commensurately to maintain margins. It is also notable that following periods of higher inflation, our industry historically has not reduced pricing to reflect lower cost, and we quarter of 2024, we expect our DIY sales to be resilient and our commercial trends to improve. We will, as always, be transparent about what we are seeing and provide color on our markets and outlook as trends emerge. Before handing the call to Jamir, I'd like to highlight and give some color on a few of our key business priorities for the new fiscal year. First, we continue to focus on supply chain with two initiatives that are in-flight to drive improved availability. One is our expanded hub and mega-hub rollouts, and secondly, we are making good progress on transforming our supply chain. Our strategy is focused on leveraging the entire network to carry more inventory closer to the customer to drive sales growth with speed to customer and expanded availability. Additionally, we plan on continuing to grow our Mexican and Brazilian businesses. With 804 stores open internationally for 12% of our store base, these businesses had impressive performance last fiscal year and should continue to grow in 2024. We are leveraging many of the learnings we have in the U.S. to refine our offerings in Mexico and Brazil. Now I'd like to turn the call over to Jamir Jackson.
spk08: Thanks, Phil, and good morning, everyone. As both Bill and Phil have previously discussed, we had a solid fourth quarter stacked on top of an impressive fourth quarter last year with .4% total company sales growth, a .7% domestic comp, a .9% international comp on a constant currency basis, a .8% increase in EBIT, and a .7% increase in EPS. In addition, our results for the entire fiscal year were very strong as total sales grew .4% and EPS grew 12.9%. We continue to deliver great results and the efforts of our auto zoners and our stores and distribution centers have continued to enable us to grow our business and our earnings in a meaningful way. To start this morning, let me take a few minutes to elaborate on the specifics in our P&L for Q4. For the quarter, total sales were just under $5.7 billion, up 6.4%. For the year, our total sales were $17.5 billion, up .4% versus last fiscal year. I continue to marvel at the strength of our business since FY19. Our sales are up an amazing 47% or nearly $5.6 billion since 2019. Let me give a little more color on sales and our growth initiatives, starting with our domestic commercial business. For the fourth quarter, our domestic DIFM sales increased .9% to $1.5 billion and up .9% on a two-year stack basis. Sales to our total company sales and 30% of our domestic auto parts sales. Our average weekly sales per program were approximately $16,700, down 1.8%. Now, it's important to point out that our sales per program productivity was impacted materially by the late in-quarter openings of approximately 120 new programs. While these openings depressed the -in-time productivity metric, we're encouraged by the growth prospects of these programs and their early contribution to our commercial business. These openings are part of our effort to open more stores with commercial in response to the tremendous opportunity to grow our market share. Our commercial acceleration initiatives are delivering the expected results as we grow share by winning new business and increasing our share of wallet with existing customers. We now have our commercial program in approximately 90% of our domestic stores, which leverages our DIY infrastructure, and we're building our business with national, regional, and local accounts. This quarter, we opened 156 net new programs, finishing with 5,682 total programs. As I've said since the outset of the year, commercial growth led the way in FY23, and we feel good about our prospects heading into the new year. For FY23, our commercial sales were $4.6 billion, up .7% versus last year, and up 37% from two years ago. Importantly, we have a lot of runway in front of us, and we expect to deliver on our goal of becoming a faster growing business. To support our commercial growth, we now have 98 Mega Hub locations with 13 new stores open in Q4. While I mentioned a moment ago the commercial weekly sales per program average was $16,700 per program, the 98 Mega Hubs average significantly higher sales and are growing much faster than the balance of the commercial footprint. In fact, our commercial Mega Hub business grew twice as fast as our overall commercial business in Q4. As a reminder, our Mega Hubs typically carry over 100,000 SKUs and drive tremendous sales lift inside the store box, as well as serve as an expanded assortment source for other stores. The expansion of coverage and parts availability continues to deliver a meaningful sales lift to both our commercial and DIY business. These assets are performing well individually, and the fulfillment capability for the surrounding AutoZone stores is giving our customers access to thousands of additional parts and lifting the entire network. We have an objective to reach 200 Mega Hubs supplemented by 300 regular hubs in the near term.
spk01: Our AutoZoners
spk08: and our customers are exciting, and we're determined to build on our strong momentum. On the domestic retail side of our business, our DIY comp was up .4% for the quarter. For FY23, our DIY comp grew .8% and .7% on a two-year stack basis. The business continues to be remarkably resilient as we've managed to deliver positive comp growth through this cycle. As Bill mentioned, we saw traffic down slightly and 2% ticket growth. As we move forward, we would expect to see slightly declining traffic counts offset by low to mid-single digit ticket growth in line with the long-term historical trends for the business driven by changes in technology and the durability of new parts. Importantly, our DIY business has continued to strengthen competitively behind our growth initiatives. In addition, the market is experiencing a growing and aging car park and a challenging new and used car sales market for our customers, which continues to provide a tailwind for our business. These dynamics, ticket growth, growth initiatives, and macro car park tailwinds have driven a positive comp. We're forecasting a consistent and resilient DIY business environment for FY24. Now I'll say a few words regarding our international business. As you may have noted, we changed our disclosure on our international business and we will continue to do so going forward. With 12% of our total store base outside of the U.S., the current revenue contribution, and the growth prospects moving forward, we simply have to share more about international. We continue to be pleased with the progress we're making in Mexico and Brazil. During the quarter, we opened 27 new stores in Mexico to finish with 740 stores, and 17 new stores in Brazil, ending with 100. Our same store sales grew .1% on a reported basis and .9% on a constant currency basis. We remain committed to Mexico and Brazil, and given our success in these markets, we will accelerate the store opening pace going forward. By 2028, after a robust strategic review of the market and ultimate store comp potential, we've revised our strategy and anticipate opening as many as 200 stores annually in these markets in a disciplined fashion, making this an attractive and meaningful contributor to AutoZone's future growth. Now let me spend a few minutes on the rest of the P&L and gross margin. For the quarter, our gross margin was 52.7%, up 118 basis points, driven primarily by a non-cash $30 million LIFO credit this quarter. For Q4 last year, we had a $15 million LIFO charge. Excluding LIFO from both we had a 37 basis point improvement in gross margin. I will point out that we now have $59 million in LIFO charges yet to be reversed through our P&L, and we expect these to largely reverse over FY24. We're currently modeling $15 million in LIFO credits in Q1 as inflation continues to abate and we turn our inventory. And as I've said previously, once we credit back the $59 million through the P&L, we will not take any more credits and we will begin to rebuild our unrecorded LIFO reserve. Moving to operating expenses, our expenses were up .6% versus last year's Q4 as SG&A as a percentage of sales deleveraged 34 basis points. The accelerated growth in SG&A has been purposeful as we continue to invest at an accelerated pace in IT and payroll to underpin our growth initiatives. These investments will pay dividends in customer experience, speed, and productivity. We are committed to being disciplined on SG&A growth as we move forward, and we will manage expenses in line with sales growth over time. Moving to the rest of the P&L, EBIT for the quarter was $1.2 billion, up .8% versus the prior year, driven by our positive same store sales growth and gross margin improvements, including the LIFO -over-year benefit. EBIT for FY23 was just under $3.5 billion, up .2% versus the prior year, also driven by strong top line growth. Interest expense for the quarter was $108.7 million, up 70% from Q4 a year ago, as our debt outstanding at the end of the quarter was $7.7 billion versus $6.1 billion at Q4 end last year. We're planning interest in the $88 million range for the first quarter of FY24 versus $57.7 million in this past year's first quarter. Higher debt levels and borrowing rates across the curve are driving this increase. For the quarter, our tax rate was .4% and up from last year's fourth quarter of 22.1%. This quarter's rate benefited 22 basis points from stock options exercise, while last year it benefited 70 basis points. For the first quarter of FY24, we suggest investors model us at approximately .4% before any assumption on credits due to stock option exercises. Moving to net income and EPS, net income for the quarter was $865 million, up .8% versus last year. Our diluted share count of $18.6 million was .9% lower than last year's fourth quarter. The combination of higher net income and lower share count drove earnings per share for the quarter to $46.46, up .7% for the quarter. For FY23, net income was $2.5 million, up .1% and earnings per share was $132.36, up 12.9%. Now let me talk about our free cash flow for Q4. For the fourth quarter, we generated $1.1 billion of operating cash and $701 million in free cash flow. For the year, we generated $2.1 billion in free cash. We expect to continue being an incredibly strong cash flow generator going forward and we remain committed to returning meaningful amounts of cash to our shareholders. Regarding our balance sheet, our liquidity position remains very strong and our leverage ratios remain below our historic norms. Our inventory per store was down .6% versus Q4 last year, while total inventory increased .2% over the same period last year, driven by new store growth. Net inventory, defined as merchandise inventory less accounts payable on a per store basis, was a negative $201,000 versus negative $240,000 last year and negative $215,000 last quarter. As a result, accounts payable as a percent of gross inventory finished a quarter at .9% versus last year's Q4 of 129.5%. Lastly, I'll spend a moment on capital allocation and our share repurchase program. We repurchased $1 billion of AutoZone stock in the quarter and at quarter end, we had just over $1.8 billion remaining under our share buyback authorization. The strong earnings balance sheet and powerful free cash we generated this year has allowed us to buy back 8% of the shares outstanding since the beginning of the fiscal year. We have bought back over 100% of the then outstanding shares of stock since our buyback inception in 1998, while investing in our existing assets and growing our business. We remain committed to this disciplined capital allocation approach that will enable us to invest in the business and return meaningful amounts to cash to shareholders. We finished Q4 at 2.3 times EBITDA which is below our historical objective of 2.5 times EBITDA. However, we remain committed to our leverage objective and we expect a return to the 2.5 times target in FY24. To wrap up, we remain committed to driving long-term shareholder value by investing in our growth initiatives, driving robust earnings in cash and returning excess cash to our shareholders. Our strategy continues to work. We're growing our market share and improving our competitive positioning in a disciplined way. As we look forward to FY24, we're bullish on our growth prospects behind a resilient DIY business, a fast-growing international business, and a domestic commercial business that is continuing to grow share. I continue to have tremendous confidence in our ability to drive significant and ongoing value for our shareholders, driven by a high degree of confidence in our strategy and our exceptional team of AutoZoners. One last housekeeping point, I'd like to remind you that in FY24 we will have a 53rd week in our financial results. This extra week will be added to our Q4 results. As a result, our fiscal year will now end August 31st, 2024. In order to model that extra week, I encourage you to look at our financial breakouts of both our fiscal 2019 and 2013 fourth quarters, which were the last two years we had the extra week, and we show breakouts of the full P&L accordingly. And now I'll turn it back to Bill.
spk10: Thank you, Jameer. As we start a new fiscal year, I'd like to take a moment to discuss our operating theme for the new year, Live the Pledge. I know this sounds like a very consistent theme for AutoZone. In fact, it was the theme we used in my first full year as CEO in 2006. I'm asked frequently, what differentiates AutoZone from others? My answer goes back to the same point over and over, the culture. I, our board, and our leadership team believe we can never emphasize the culture enough. The culture is defined by helping solve our customers' challenges and optimizing the performance of their vehicles. It's based on a team-based approach, recognizing everyone's contributions in performance and putting team goals ahead of personal goals. It sets the standard at exceptional performance, not mediocrity. It's about the AutoZone family. Calling yourself a family comes with great responsibility. And it is so much more. The pledge and our values summarize our operating strategy succinctly. As we've accelerated our top line since the onset of the pandemic, our competitive positioning has also materially improved. Our efforts for 2024 will be focused on execution. We have a lot of projects in flight, and we need to get them completed. Supply chain improvements will remain a key focus in FY24. We will continue with our additions of Mega Hub and Hub Stores, new distribution centers, and international store growth. As you noticed, our international teams posted same store sales comps on a constant currency basis of 14.9%, much higher than our domestic comp. International has been strong for a few years now. This morning, I'm excited to share after an extensive strategic review of the ultimate number of locations we can have in the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil, we are announcing our plans for a much more aggressive global store development plan. Over the last five years, we've averaged 140 domestic store openings and 50 international openings for a total of roughly 190 new stores a year in the Americas. We plan on accelerating this pace and aspire to open as many as 500 stores five years from now. So by FY28, we are modeling 500 store openings with the split being 300 in the U.S., 200 internationally. FY24 will remain around 200, but we will ramp from there. You may be asking, why this change of strategy and why now? The answer is our profitability per store is materially higher since the beginning of the pandemic. We continue to find new trade areas, even in our more mature U.S. markets. Our growth commercial has materially changed the economics on a per store basis. We believe this is just the beginning on commercial and our ROIC, one of the most important metrics we track, is over 50%. Also, our international markets are immature, so we continue to see expansion opportunities in Mexico and Brazil, along with putting a toehold at some point in other new markets. I want to stress we will be diligent and disciplined. We have a long track record of performance with high returns and strong cash flow generation. We have no plans on changing that strategy and approach, where we believe in evolution over revolution. We believe in continuous improvement and we believe in test and learn. We have been and will remain anchored on our capital allocation strategy. While I spent time talking about our store development strategies for the future, that is not the key focus for us in FY24. The number one focus will be on growing share in our domestic commercial business. We believe we have a solid plan in place for growth over the next 12 months. We know our focus on parts availability and better customer service will lead to sales growth. We're excited as we start 2024. This time of year, I always enjoy reflecting on the past. Our team achieved some impressive milestones this year. $17.5 billion in sales, racing past the $17 billion milestone. DIY comps of 1.8%, most impressively .9% on a three-year basis. Commercial sales are now $4.6 billion. I personally distinctly remember a goal of $1 billion not that long ago. Average weekly sales domestically of $47,600, equating to just under $2.5 million per store annually. Our Mexico and All Data teams both broke multiple records. And Brazil is poised for significant growth in store count and getting to profitability break even on the path to substantial profitability in the future. We bought back $3.7 billion in auto zone stock, the second highest ever, only behind last year's $4.4 billion. And our team has grown our EBIT by 61% in four years. That's remarkable. But we can't rest on our lulls. And we aren't without our challenges, that's for sure. As I've said on several occasions, we have to exit pandemic mode. We had to get back to taking care of the customer. And this requires as close to flawless execution as possible. We have to make sure every store is staffed right every hour of every day. Our processes need to function correctly, always. We have to meet our store opening goals and timelines. Simply put, we have to remain the execution machine that we have always been. On June 26, we announced a leadership transition plan. And yesterday, we announced the next evolution of AutoZone's senior most leadership team. I've had the honor and privilege of being part of this team for nearly 29 years now. And it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. We, as part of that leadership transition plan, announced that I would step away from the president and CEO roles, but remain executive chairman in January. As a board, we've been contemplating this transition for many, many years, and began a very robust, well-defined discipline process nearly three years ago. Our goal was to identify a successor and ensure that successor had a fabulous team with them. I think we've accomplished that goal. The company will be in fantastic hands with Phil Danielle leading it. He loves this business, is a car fanatic, and has been here for 30 years and in the industry for nearly 40 years, with Jameer Jackson leading the finance and store development teams and Tom Newbert now serving as our chief operating officer in addition to the talents of our talented executive team. Our company is in terrific hands. While it will be bittersweet for me, I'm excited that Phil and the board have asked me to continue to be very involved for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, I know Phil, Jameer, Tom, and I all know this is a team sport. And ultimately, it's not about the senior most leaders in this organization. It's our culture, which at its core is all about having the best, most passionate auto zoners taking care of customers and the organization prioritizing auto zoners and their development, or we say, as we say, caring about others. Yesterday, we announced other organization changes with the promotion of Bill Hackney to executive vice president, merchandising, marketing and supply chain. I congratulate Bill, a 38-year auto zoner who knows this business exceptionally well and has always been a top performer. We also announced that three terrific long-term leaders will be retiring around the end of the calendar year. I thank and congratulate Grant McGee, Charlie Plez, and Al Seltile for their partnership, leadership, and friendship for all these years. They leave AutoZone, a massively better organization than they found it many years ago. So, changes in the air. Frankly, it always is. It is amazing to me to see how much our leadership has changed over my near 30-year tenure at AutoZone. To me, that's why the culture, it's why the culture is so important in this organization. With a phenomenal culture, it's about the team, it's about the goals, and it's about performance. As we begin this transition, Bill and I both shared that not only do we both feel we embody the culture, both of us believe we are products of this culture. We've learned extraordinary lessons from our three decades at AutoZone. Most importantly, always put the customer first. Execution wins. People want to play on those closest to the customer and so much more. Bill and I both continue to say, and it may sound like a cliche, but we believe it, AutoZone's best days lie ahead of us. Now we'd like to open up the call for questions.
spk04: Thank you. At this time, we will be conducting a question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad. A confirmation tone will indicate your line is in the question queue. You may press star two if you would like to remove your question from the queue. And for participants using speaker equipment, it may be necessary to pick up your handset before pressing the star key. We do ask that you try limit your questions today to two for time purposes. One moment, please, while we poll for questions. Thank you. Our first question is coming from Brett Jordan with Jefferies. Your line is live.
spk10: Hey, good
spk09: morning, guys.
spk11: Good morning, Brett.
spk09: You called out market share gain in the commercial space in the fourth quarter, but then you said not in line with your aspirations, but then also said that pricing is rational. What do you think is happening in the space? Are there peers that are interested in the space? What do you suggest your regional footprint and exposure to some of those softer markets that made the difference?
spk10: It's a terrific question, Brett, and there's a lot of different elements, as you would expect. Again, we are not satisfied with our commercial growth at this level, and we are going to change that. We're encouraged about the direction that we're heading. I think part of it, Brett, is a comparison versus last year, and you mentioned in stocks. Last year, 18 months ago, we got very aggressive with some key categories and bought a lot of merchandise when, frankly, a lot of our less sophisticated competitors were not in great in-stock positions. As we're beginning to lap that significant outsize growth last year, that's certainly a challenge for us, and we're beginning to get past that point in time. We also mentioned that we've had some challenges in the Midwest and Northeast, particularly with undercar categories and particularly in commercial, where we just didn't have that winner that we so desperately want and need, and we've suffered in those undercar categories.
spk09: Okay, great. A big picture question, I guess, on the international. When you look at the obviously different vehicle demographic and economy, but how do you see the underlying growth rates in the DIY and the DIFM segments in Brazil and Mexico, sort of on a longer term basis?
spk10: That's a great question. We've been in Mexico for nearly 25 years now. There's just not great data there, Brett, and so you don't have the terrific kind of information that we get from the Auto Care Association, so we don't have great data down there. We're working to try to see if we can get some better data, but what we know is we've been in Mexico now, as I said, almost 25 years, and we continue to grow significantly and think that we have a lot of growth left in front of us, not just in new stores, but on same store sales. There are still categories where we are massively under-penetrated. There are still categories we don't participate in at all, and as we learn more about that business, we're continuing to grow. Same things happen in Brazil. We're just much earlier in Brazil.
spk09: But fair to think an older car base that drives better underlying growth than US.
spk10: I think in Mexico, clearly, the car base is older, and there's a lot of US cars. There's also a lot of Mexico manufactured vehicles. Brazil is very different in that the size of the vehicles, and particularly the engine sizes in Brazil, are massively smaller. I mean, if you have a two-liter engine in Brazil, that's a big car. Many of them are 1.4 liters and the like, so we've still got a lot to learn in Brazil, but we're excited about where we believe we see a path to great success, but we're still losing money there. We've got to fix that over the next couple of years. Great. Thank you. Thank you.
spk04: Thank you. Our next question is coming from Simeon Gutman with Morgan Stanley. Your line is live.
spk11: Good morning, everyone, and congratulations to the retirees and the promotees. My first question is, I may have missed it, is double digits still the goal for commercial? And if so, how should we think about the timeframe to getting there? Absolutely,
spk12: it's still the goal. Keep in mind, we still have pretty low share in that .5% range or so. So we're under share, and we think there's still tremendous opportunity for us to gain share. Like we said, we're not happy with our performance in the Q4 timeframe. We do feel like exiting the quarter at a higher rate, and we believe we'll continue to improve from this point forward. But we're not back to where we want to be, but we do see line of sight to getting back to that double digit growth over time.
spk11: And then maybe to follow up, the way you've built the business in commercial, it's been methodical, and you've had some periods of faster growth, but it's been cumulative. And my question is, now that you're focused on it again, how do we get comfortable with timing that prescriptively your business reaccelerates, call it in the next few quarters versus why not take the year to get some of the traction from the things that you're working on?
spk12: Well, like I said, we talked in Q3 or 4 that our execution in the commercial arena wasn't where we expected it to be. And we've been working on that. We saw performance and the execution levels improve as we worked through Q4. We're not finished yet. We'll frankly never be finished. Execution is a long-term strategy. But we continue to get better. And we think we continue to improve our business model. Like we said, we've opened up more hubs, more mega hubs. We continue to strengthen our store-side assortments. And we're also continuing to leverage the technology enhancements that we've made over the last couple of years. And those will continue to mature. And we're not standing still. That technology enhancements will continue as we move through this next year.
spk11: Okay. Thank you. Good luck.
spk04: Thank you. Our next question is coming from Seth Sigman with Barclays. Your line is nice.
spk03: Hey, good morning, everyone. And I'll add my congrats as well on all the new roles. Hey, I want to follow up on the commercial business. And that last point, if you can maybe just elaborate on the execution shortfalls that you've seen. What are we talking about here? Is that availability? Is it something more sales-related? Just any more context on that and how you're fixing that and the response so far? And then I'll add a follow-up. Thank you.
spk12: On the execution, thanks for the question. On the execution, I think if you go back to the pandemic and some of the challenges of the pandemic, we obviously struggled with in-stock. We struggled with staffing as everybody did. And we struggled with store-level execution. Our primary objectives were keep our autozoners safe, take care of the customers, keep our stores in stock. There wasn't any of this big one area that got broken. It was a lot of little things. And at AutoZone, we expect to operate executionally solid every single day. We didn't achieve that. We're continuing to work on that. And we're ticking off the execution marks to get back to flawless execution day in and day out. That frankly takes time. And we'll continue to improve. We like the improvements we saw in Q4. I wouldn't say we're done. We think there's still opportunities to improve. And we'll continue down that path. It's just part of our culture. Execute flawlessly.
spk03: Got it. Okay. That's helpful. And then I wanted to follow up on another point made earlier about traffic and volume improving through the quarter. And I think that coincides with inflation moderating. Can you just give us a little bit more perspective on what you've seen historically as it relates to elasticity? And then just in general, how are you thinking about inflation for this coming fiscal year? Thanks.
spk08: Yeah. So the first point I'll make on inflation is that we've been copying hyperinflation relative to our stored industry trends for quite some time now. And so as inflation has sort of moderated and faded to sort of the normal rates, those are the dynamics that we've been experiencing. As it relates to our business moving forward, we expect inflation to be in the low to mid single digit range that will impact our tickets. On the DIY side, as we've said, we've historically seen transaction counts decline kind of low single digits, if you will. And so we expect to be operating in our business closer to historic norms moving forward. In terms of the macro environment and how that's going to wobble from the consumer, we think it's been a two speed world for a while where the low end consumer has been under some pressure, but consumers that have higher incomes have been doing well. And the net result of that is our business on the DIY side has been very, very resilient.
spk03: Okay. Thank you.
spk04: Thank you. Our next question is coming from Elizabeth Suzuki with Bank of America. Your line is live.
spk06: Great. Thank you. I just a question on expansion and store growth. I mean, just given that the cost of construction, the cost of capital has gone up quite a bit in the last couple of years, how are you thinking about capital allocation? Just, it seems like store growth is a pretty big part of your long term plans, but just thinking about where that capital can be best deployed and which areas, maybe rural areas or international, where you think you're going to get the best return?
spk10: Yeah. Thank you, Elizabeth. We think we're going to get a great return basically in all three countries, whether it be urban environments or rural environments. And I go back to when you're running a ROIC at 50%, that shows that we can get really good returns. Yes, we're making this announcement when construction costs are higher, interest rates are higher and on and on. We're making decisions that are 40 year decisions. And we believe we've got a long runway for opening significant amounts of new stores. And once we finished that strategic review back in June, we made the decision that we're going to accelerate and get back to 500 stores a year. Now, remember that'll be between three and three and a half percent organic store growth. So it's not like we're talking about going to 10% growth. We think having something that's growing in that range makes a lot of sense for the long term.
spk08: And the only thing I'll add Liz is that, you know, to your point around capital allocation, this doesn't change our long term capital allocation framework. You know, managing our leverage target at two and a half times EVA DAR gives us a tremendous amount of financial firepower to invest in our existing assets, to invest in this growth profile that Bill's talking about, but also to give meaningful amounts of cash back to shareholders. So doesn't change our long term capital allocation framework as we move forward.
spk06: Great. Thank you. And then you talked about, you know, Mexico and Brazil. And now in Brazil, you're still losing some money there. What does the profit profile look like in Mexico or just for the international operations in total? And how should we think about the impact on the total company margin profile as those stores grow as a percentage of AutoZone's total?
spk10: Well, it's certainly a tale of two countries. You know, we are losing money in Brazil. We haven't seen any significant changes in the market. We are very pleased with the profitability profile and particularly the return profile in Mexico.
spk06: Great. Thank you.
spk10: Thank you.
spk04: Thank you. Our next question is coming from Chris Horvors with JP Morgan. Your line is live.
spk00: Thanks. Good morning. Also wanted to follow up on the commercial side. You talked about 7% in the last four weeks. So to clarify, was that comp? And as we look forward, you know, clearly August was hot and you got a weather bump there. So you talked about improving from what you've seen. I guess what's the right trend line to think about of the seven versus the two and a half that you actually did for the quarter?
spk12: Yeah, the seven, just to be clear, was a total growth in those last four weeks of the quarter. So it improved over the quarter timeframe. You know, I'd like to forecast that we're going to improve from there. It could be bumpy. Nothing's a straight line. I'll tell you, if you think about the weather performance over the quarter, like we said, the beginning parts of the quarter, you know, the first months of May and June were particularly cool and wet. And although that had probably a more material impact on the DIY side of the business, it impacts commercial as well. And as it got hot, you know, you see those bigger ticket categories like, you know, for say air conditioning, for example. Those are big categories and big jobs. And as you get those failures due to heat, it helps the comps and the total growth. So we think that weather story will help us a little bit. The hot summer will help us move through the beginning of Q4 and then we'll move into a normal weather pattern as we go through Q2 in the rest of the year.
spk00: Got it. And then, okay, got it. So the 7% was total. So the comps, I'll undo it for me, was more like a five, I guess. Is that right? And then as you think about 24, any other high-level comments? I know you don't guide. Jameer, you talked about some high-fo, tailwinds that persist early and then probably turn to some -over-year headwinds. Anything else to think about in the P&L in terms of a Sheena per store or other comments on gross margin and so forth? Thank you.
spk08: Yeah, so as we think about FY24, I think there are a handful of dynamics that you need to sort of wrap your minds around as you're building your models. Number one, we're forecasting a very consistent and resilient DIY business and Phil and Bill talked about some of those dynamics as part of their prepared comments. The second dynamic that we're focused on, as Phil alluded to, is an improving growth profile in our commercial business. Again, we were very pleased with where we exited the fourth quarter. I believe we've got good momentum going into the first quarter and next year. I think the third dynamic that you mentioned is around LIFO. We've got $59 million of LIFO that we expect to largely get back through the P&L. So as you're working your way through your modeling, you can expect most, if not all of that, to come back to us this year. And then from an expense profile standpoint, we said longer-term SG&A will grow in line with sales. We are in investment mode, particularly in IT and some of the areas that are underpinning some of the growth initiatives that we're talking about. So that's how I'd focus. The last one I just mentioned is just from an international standpoint. You've seen us post our international numbers this morning. We've got two years, quite frankly, where the business has been on fire. And we're very excited about the growth profile in our international business. So as you think about where we are, we feel good about the growth prospects going forward. We think from a margin standpoint, we've made tremendous strides in gross margin excluding LIFO. And we've got to consist in a resilient domestic DIY business, which still is the lion of our business as we move forward.
spk00: Thank you.
spk04: Thank you. Our next question is coming from Michael Lasser with UBS. Your line is live.
spk02: Hi, this is Henry Carr on behalf of Michael Lasser. Good morning and thank you for taking our question. We've been hearing about elevated levels of deferred maintenance and weak car counts in the industry. When thinking about returning to a sustainable high single digit or low double digit growth in commercial, how are you factoring in this occurrence into the reaffirmed goal? And is there any way to quantify it?
spk10: Yeah, we don't have terrific data on that. Obviously, we're in our commercial customer shops all the time. And we're hearing the same things. Frankly, we've been hearing it since about February, that car counts are down, particularly for people that are in the tire business. And as you know, when a technician takes off a tire, it provides a whole other opportunity for sales. You get a chance to see what's going on with the braking systems and chassis systems and the like. So we don't have a great history on what are the exact numbers, but we think it has been a softer environment. I think some of that has to do with the economic challenges that we're seeing. We haven't operated the commercial business at this level for a long period of time. So we don't know the cycles like we do in the DIY business. But I think our belief is when economic pressures happen, we get trade down from DIY to DIFM, sorry, from DIFM to DIY in certain categories. And I suspect that's what we're experiencing now. How long will that last? You tell me what the economic cycle is going to look like. And again, we have a lot of discussions about short term sales performance, our focus is not on the short term sales performance. Our focus is on what are we doing in our business to make our business better competitively? And how are we going to grow sales and share profitably over the long term?
spk02: Thank you. And just as a quick follow up, I believe the mega hubs came in at 13 and fourth quarter. And if I'm not mistaken, might be a little bit short of where you were targeting for 22 to 25 for full year, fiscal year 23. Are most of these openings just going to roll into 2023? Is there another way we should think about it?
spk10: Thanks. You want me to do Jamir's performance review in public? I was
spk08: just getting ready to say, did he pay you to ask that question? So, you know, obviously store development falls under my purview. We are short of where we need to be. And you know, when Phil talked about things that we need to execute better on, certainly what we're doing from a store development standpoint fits squarely into that category, as I said last quarter. We got 20 open this past fiscal year. We would have liked that number to be closer to 25. But what I'll tell you is that our pipeline is very strong as we move into FY 24. And we're committed to getting to the 200 number. So you'll see us start to accelerate that mega hub target. And it's important for our business. It's important not just for the commercial business, but also for the DIY business because of the outsize growth that we see in our mega hub. So we're working our way through it and we'll get better as we move forward.
spk04: Thank you. Thank you. Our next question is coming from Seth Basham with Wedbush Securities. Your line is live.
spk05: Thanks a lot and good morning. My question is also on the commercial business. Just in terms of where you're not getting as much share as you expected, is it more the national accounts versus up and down the street accounts? Are there any specific regions that are underperforming your expectations?
spk12: Yeah, I mean there's the national account versus what we call the UDS account or the general repair shop down the street. The business growth between the two has been pretty consistent, frankly. I will say within some of those national accounts, I think it's been more around two segments that have not performed as well for us recently. One is the used car market, kind of the buy here, pay here growth has not been as good and the used car markets that are sold within new car dealerships, those markets haven't been as good for us. And like Bill mentioned earlier, the groups that deal with tires have been softer. We didn't have a great winter. Those tire changes, you know, going from a summer tire to a winter tire and vice versa, didn't happen like you would normally expect. And as Bill mentioned, when you pull that tire off and you get to see that the brakes are rusted and the caliper is frozen and the suspension parts aren't working as well as they should be, or maybe something's broken, that opportunity to get the wheel off just generates a bigger repair. Now the other thing is as people push maintenance off, there becomes more failures in the repair cycle. So longer term, pushing that deferred maintenance off is good for us. But those have been the pressure points over the last couple of months.
spk05: Understand those being the pressure points, but would you assess those also areas where you're not getting as much share as you expected?
spk12: Yeah, I don't know that we're not getting share in those categories. I think over the last couple of years, we know we've grown significant share in some of those categories. I believe everybody would be down pretty commensurately. And some of those categories aren't going to return to a more normal cycle until you go through another winter cycle of snow. So, you know, I think they'll be depressed. We'll see those categories be under a little bit of pressure until we get through another normal winter cycle.
spk10: Seth, I'll add if I may, that I do think like we said earlier, we grew share exponentially over a couple of years. And part of that was because our in stock position was massively better, certainly than our WD competitors. I think we've seeded some of that share back to them as they've gotten back in stock.
spk05: Yeah, that's exactly what my follow up is going to be, Bill. Just thinking about that in stock position, when we start to cycle that improvement by your competitors, is that here into the fiscal first quarter or is it going to take another couple of quarters?
spk10: I think we're beginning to cycle it now. But as you said, it's going to take some time. Not every category was the same. Not every competitor was the same. So it'll, you know, we'll probably be dealing with it for six more months, but we probably pass the hype of it.
spk05: Great. Thanks, guys.
spk10: Yep. Thank you.
spk04: Thank you. Our final question today will be coming from Scott Ciccarelli with Truist. Your line is nice.
spk01: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for the time. So I guess I'm still confused outside of weather. What have the main execution challenges been on the commercial segment, part one, and then part two kind of related to that is, you know, what specific changes are you making to the business to help accelerate growth as we kind of roll here into further into 24? Thank you.
spk10: Yeah, thanks, Scott. I think the answer is there's not one single thing. I think we tried to make that clear. As we've said for the last two quarters, we were operating differently during the pandemic. Everybody had to operate differently because we were having to make decisions on the fly every day. As we've come out of the pandemic, we've lost a few of our disciplines. These are things like writing the right schedule. We've experienced exceptionally high turnover. We don't have the same level of experience in our stores that we had then. And we just got to get back to making sure that we're dotting the i's and crossing the t's and we're delivering parts on time, that we've got the right in stock levels and on and on and on. There is not one major thing. These are thousand paper cuts, but that has been the hallmark of this organization. I put our execution up against anybody and we weren't as sharp as we needed to be and we're making those improvements today.
spk01: And then specific changes you're making, is it just better blocking and tackling for lack of a better term,
spk10: Bill? I think that that is the biggest change that we're making, but that's not the sole thing that we're doing. Phil mentioned that we've got a lot of technology that we've deployed in the commercial business. Over the last six months, we've really refined that technology and we're excited about what it means. We have two or three major technological enhancements that are coming in the first quarter or two this year, specifically in the commercial business, that are all focused on how do we execute better, how do we decrease delivery times, how do we make sure that we're delivering the right parts at the right time, and we're excited about that.
spk01: Got it. Thank you.
spk10: All right. Thank you. All right. Before we conclude the call, I want to take a moment to reiterate we believe our industry is in a strong position and our business model is solid. We're excited about our growth aspects for the year, but we will take nothing for granted as we understand our customers have alternatives. We have exciting plans that should help us succeed for the future, but I want to stress that this is a marathon and not a sprint. As we continue to focus on the basics and strive to optimize shareholder value for the future, we are confident AutoZone will continue to be very successful. Thank you for participating in today's call. Have a great day.
spk04: Thank you. This does conclude today's conference call. You may disconnect your lines at this time, and we thank you for your participation.