February 24, 2011 / 1:07 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 3-Loblaw earnings drop as key executive set to depart

* Adjusted EPS C$0.67 vs expectations of C$0.60

* Same-store sales down 1.6 percent

* President to leave, replaced by Carrefour executive

* Revenue falls 2.3 pent, missing expectations

* Shares drop 0.8 percent on the Toronto Stock Exchange (Recasts; adds analyst comment, details, shares)

TORONTO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Loblaw Cos Ltd (L.TO), Canada's No. 1 grocer, said on Thursday information technology investments pulled down quarterly earnings and sales at established stores dropped, sending its shares lower.

The company also said Allan Leighton will step down as president later this year to make way for Vicente Trius, a retailing veteran who has worked for Carrefour, Europe's biggest retailer, and Wal-Mart, one of Loblaw's main competitors in Canada.

Tempering the negative results, profit after adjusting for one-time items came in above analysts' average forecast as the company earned more on each dollar of cash it generated.

"It's a mixed bag," Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough said. While Loblaw topped estimates, weak same-store sales and the planned departure of Leighton may not go down well with investors, he added.

"He's been masterminding this turnaround for the last two years," he said. "They's done a great job. So it makes you wonder, what happens with him leaving?"

The company is the middle of a program to improve productivity at its stores in part by revamping its supply chain structure. That has involved heavy technology spending.

Leighton's exit finds the retailer still working to counter fierce competition, especially in Ontario. Many shoppers remain cost-conscious even as the Canadian economy's recovery from a brief recession is picking up steam.

"The consumer, with the economic downturn we had, is much more value-oriented and looking for bargains," Yarbrough said. "They're willing to shop a couple of different stores before buying something.

Loblaw competes with Metro Inc MRUa.TO and Empire Co Ltd (EMPa.TO), as well as Walmart Canada, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N).

Walmart has stepped up its plans to open more Canadian supercenters, which offer a bigger selection of groceries. Its focus is expanding in the province of Quebec

The expected arrival of Target Corp (TGT.N) stores in Canada within a couple of years further complicates the outlook for Loblaw and other grocers.

BY THE NUMBERS

Earnings for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 1 fell to C$151 million, or 54 Canadian cents a share, from C$165 million, or 59 Canadian cents, a year earlier.The company recorded a charge of 7 cents a share on investments in the information technology and supply chain.

Adjusted for one-time items, profit came in at 67 cents a share, topping the average forecast of 60 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Margins on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization rose to 6.2 percent, compared with 5.7 percent a year earlier.

Sales at stores open for at least a year, a key measure for retailers, declined 1.6 percent.

In 2011, its investments in information technology will hurt operating income by about $135 million over the previous year, it said.

Revenue fell 2.3 percent to C$7.16 billion, compared with the average estimate of C$7.33 billion.

Loblaw shares were down 0.8 to C$38.77 on mid-day Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The stock has dropped 10 percent in the last six months. (Reporting by S. John Tilak; Editing by Frank McGurty)

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