* EPS 37 cents vs 20 cents
* Adjusted EPS 29 cents vs estimate 26 cents
* Revenue rises 34 pct to $4 bln vs $2.99 bln
* Shares up 3 percent (Updates with conference call. In U.S. dollars unless noted.)
By Solarina Ho
TORONTO, July 13 (Reuters) - Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc ATDb.TO, a convenience store operator seeking to buy Casey’s General Stores Inc CASY.O, said on Tuesday quarterly earnings rose 81 percent on higher gasoline margins and strong sales growth.
Both profit and revenue at Couche-Tard, North America’s largest independent convenience store operator, topped analyst forecasts, pushing its shares up more than 3 percent.
The company, which operates in Canada and the United States under the Couche-Tard, Mac’s and Circle K banners, said merchandise sales in stores opened at least one year, or same-stores-sales, rose 6.9 percent in Canada and 3.2 percent in the United States.
The profit gain “was basically driven by stronger fuel margins and very impressive same-store sales growth, particularly on the merchandise side in Canada ...” said Canaccord Genuity analyst Derek Dley.
“We think the company is going to continue to gain market share,” he said.
Dley said he expects further same-store sales growth going forward but sees investors more likely to be focused on acquisition activity.
Couche-Tard, which operates more than 5,800 convenience stores in Canada and the United States, extended its $1.85 billion takeover offer for Casey’s until Aug. 6. Casey’s stockholders tendered 20 percent of the shares by the original deadline of midnight, July 9. [nSGE66B0G5]
“We remain committed to making this combination a reality and will not be discouraged by Casey’s efforts to distract its shareholders with these baseless claims,” Chief Executive Alain Bouchard said during a webcast on Tuesday.
Casey‘s, which operates over 1,500 stores in nine Midwestern states, filed a complaint last month against Couche-Tard alleging market manipulation. According to the filing, Couche-Tard accumulated about 3.9 percent of Casey’s shares before its April 9 bid. Shortly after Couche-Tard announced its cash offer of $36 a share, it sold almost all of its shares for $38.43 each. [nN11169357]
Bouchard said Casey’s filed a motion on Monday to dismiss the counter-claim Couche-Tard submitted on June 18.
Couche-Tard declined to answer any questions on the Casey’s bid during the webcast.
“Aside from Casey‘s, there are a number of attractive acquisition opportunities out there, and the company is well positioned to grow both through acquisition as well as organically, namely on the merchandise side as it continues to leverage its merchandise mix,” Dley said.
Earnings rose to $68.8 million, or 37 cents a share, in Couche-Tard’s fourth quarter ended April 25. That compares with profit of $38 million, or 20 cents, for the same period a year earlier.
Excluding one-time gains, profit came in at 29 cents a share, ahead of analysts’ forecasts of 26 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose about 34 percent to $4 billion from $2.99 billion, also higher than expected.
Same-store gasoline volume climbed 4.2 percent in Canada and fell 0.7 percent in the United States. The slight drop in U.S. volume was the industry norm for the quarter, according to Dley.
Gasoline gross margins were up 2.83 cents a gallon in the United States. Laval, Quebec-based Couche-Tard sells gasoline at about 80 percent of its locations.
Couche-Tard shares closed 64 Canadian cents higher, or 3.2 percent, at C$20.50 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Reporting by Solarina Ho