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Costco Gains In Quarter, Sets Big Special Dividend

For the first quarter of its 2013 fiscal year ended November 25, Costco Wholesale Corp. posted net sales of $23.21 billion, the company stated, up 10% from the 2012 period. At the same time, it reported quarterly results, Costco announced an extraordinary dividend that, when paid, will total $3 billion.

Excluding the effects of gasoline and foreign currency price fluctuations, comparable club sales gained 6% in the first quarter. Comps in the United States increased 6% while those in international markets gained 7%.

In November, net sales gained 9% to $8.15 billion. In the four weeks ended November 25, excluding the effects of gasoline and foreign currency price fluctuations, comps increased 6% in the U.S. and 5% internationally for a company figure of 5%.

The special dividend announced is in addition to Costco’s regular quarterly cash dividend of 27.5 cents per share that the company declared on October 30. The special cash dividend of $7 per share of Costco common stock is payable December 18 to shareholders of record at business close on December 10. The aggregate total special dividend payment will be approximately $3 billion, Costco stated.

Richard Galanti, evp and CFO, commented in introducing quarterly financial results: “Today’s announcement of a $7 special dividend, to be paid before the end of the calendar year, is our latest effort in returning capital to our shareholders while maintaining our conservative capital structure. Our strong balance sheet and favorable access to the credit markets allow us to provide shareholders with this dividend, while also preserving financial and operational flexibility to grow our business globally, allowing for ongoing dividend and share repurchase activities, and enhancing the value of the Costco membership to the more than 67 million Costco cardholders throughout the world.”

It also beats any tax increase that may come out of U.S. government budget negotiations in Washington. Former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, a founder and board member of the company, had supported President Barack Obama’s call for higher taxes on the wealthy made during the election cycle. Of course, Costco shareholders, particularly critical institutional shareholders, may have expressed some concern about how such tax increases might impact the value of their stake in the company. Later this afternoon, Costco will conduct a webcast discussion about the special dividend that can be accessed through the company’s Internet site.