Nash Finch Weathers Tough 2004; Outlook for '05 Slightly Better

MINNEAPOLIS -- In 2004, wholesalerretailer Nash Finch saw positive performance of its food distribution side dragged down by a troubled retail division.

The company, which released its fourth quarter and annual results yesterday, said total sales for the 52-week fiscal 2004 were $3.9 billion, versus $4.0 billion in the 53-week fiscal 2003. Excluding $68.4 million of extra sales from that extra week in 2003, 2004's performance would have been flat instead of down.

Net earnings for 2004 fared worse, at $14.9 million, or $1.18 per diluted share, versus $35.1 million, or $2.88 per share, for 2003. Earnings from continuing operations were $14.9 million, or $1.18, for 2004 as compared to $34.7 million, or $2.85.

Earnings from continuing operations in 2004 were slammed by a negative impact of $24.0 million, due to factors the largest of which was a special charge of $21.0 million involving primarily non-cash costs associated with the disposition of 21 retail stores. Earnings from 2003 continuing operations, on the other hand, included several events that had a positive impact of $4.5 million.

For the fourth quarter of 2004, total sales were $920 million compared to $1.011 billion in the prior-year period. Excluding $68.4 million of extra sales from the additional week in the 2003 fourth quarter, fourth quarter 2003 sales would have been $942.6 million.

Net earnings were $11.2 million, or 87 cents per share, for the 12-week period, compared to $13.0 million, or $1.05 per share, in the year-ago period. Fourth quarter 2004 earnings from continuing operations were $11.2 million, or 87 percent per share, compared to $12.5 million, or $1.02 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter 2003.

The company said wholesale sales in 2004 were up 2.1 percent, to 1.96 billion compared to $1.92 billion in 2003. Excluding the extra week in 2003, 2004’s gain would have been 4.3 percent. Military distribution performance was also a positive story, with sales up 2.8 percent.

Same-store sales, on the other hand, dropped 7 percent for the year and 6 percent for the quarter. Nash Finch laid the blames for the declines on "competitive openings that have occurred during the past year" in its retail territories.

The outlook for 2005, meanwhile, "assumes low-digit sales growth in our food and military food distribution segments, and flat to slightly negative same-store sales in our retail segment," Nash Finch said.
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