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AutoZone (AZO)

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AutoZone (NYSE:AZO) is the largest U.S. retailer of automotive parts and accessories to do-it-yourself (DIY) customers by number of stores. AutoZone operates over 4,000 stores, the majority (96%) of which are in the United States and Puerto Rico. [1] The company places stores in regions that have large number of vehicles seven years old and older because of these cars’ need for repairs and maintenance. While the company seeks to open stores in high-traffic areas, AutoZone is largely a destination retailer – a retailer that generates its own traffic instead of relying on other nearby stores’ traffic base. [2]

Operating in a mature and fragmented marketplace, AutoZone’s growth has been largely dependent upon increases in store count rather than its same store sales which have been lagging over the past 5 years. In addition, Autozone has been facing pressure in a consolidating auto parts manufacturer industry (related to the woes of the Big Three automakers); fewer auto parts manufacturers reduces the pricing power the company enjoys as the largest auto parts retailer in the U.S. because the company now has fewer suppliers to choose form. Finally, in the longer term, the company may see decreased demand in auto parts due to continually rising oil prices, which could decrease the mileage driven by American and thus decrease the demand for car repairs and maintenance.

Auto zone locations Business and Financial Metrics

Contents

When people buy fewer cars, they repair their old ones more often. The financial situation of Auto-Zone for the past year has been similarly positive, but is subject to risk as explained below and elaborated upon in the Trends and Forces section. For example, the advent new car technologies (electric or hydrogen fueled vehicles) may change AutoZone’s profitability over time, but it is difficult to say how without having seen critical adoption of any such auto-innovation.

Looking at Wikinvest’s Operating Metrics [3] for the number of stores Autozone has been from year to year the primary industry player, though O’Reilly Automotive (ORLY) is quickly catching up. Also, the aggregate number of auto-repair stores is increasing. This makes sense, because fewer people are buying new cars and more people are looking to repair their old cars. Once people start buying new cars again, however, the aggregate effect will be an excess of auto-repair shops. This will increase competition over time and cause industry margins to lower, possibly damaging the profitability of Autozone depending on how it fares in this new competitive environment.

It is also important to note that Autozone has retired a large portion of its financing expenses. The impact on Autozone’s cash flows is depicted on the Autozone Cash Flow page. [3]

AutoZone rode the boost to the auto-repair industry in order to implement a large share buyback. [4]

Investors can either view a share buyback as a sign of confidence in the corporate board, or a bluff (companies sometimes buy back shares to artificially increase their stock price so the management can exercise their stock options). The market responded positively to the share buyback which supports the view that Autozone’s confidence is justified. Despite the company’s confidence, the market does give Autozone a significantly lower P/E ratio than it does to O’Reilly Automotive (ORLY) and Advance Auto Parts (AAP) . Looking at the operating metrics pages for AutoZone (AZO) , O’Reilly Automotive (ORLY) and Advance Auto Parts (AAP) (the three big auto parts companies) one will notice that they are quite similar except for the growth rates, for which O’Reilly is dominating. This could be explained by any number of qualitative factors such as superior customer service, better marketing, or faster turnaround.

Auto zone locations Q1 FY2011 Earnings

  • Posted earnings of $172 million, up $28.8 million or 20.1% compared to same period last year. [5]
  • AZO attributes domestic same store sales, which were up 9.5% during the first quarter, for increased performance.
  • Sales in US car repair shops remain 13% of total sales, but have risen 21% in this quarter compared to last year. [6]

Auto zone locations Key Trends and Forces

Auto zone locations O’Reilly Automotive (ORLY)’s explosive expansion could lower Autozone’s margins

O’Reilly Automotive (ORLY) is a direct competitor, which means lower margins for AutoZone (AZO) for two reasons:

  1. Lower pricing power. More stores means more competition. More competition means that customers can bargain for lower repair prices. This will be exacerbated when the economy picks back up because new cars will need fewer repairs, driving demand down lower along with margins.
  2. Higher variable expenses. In an attempt to keep a higher price point, all parties will try to differentiate themselves with better service, new initiatives (like servicing Electric Cars), and faster turnaround time. As the cost structure increases, margins will decrease.

One way to counter this trend is AutoZone’s position in Mexican markets. As the Mexican economy picks up, and its middle class grows, so will its demand for automobiles and therefore automobile repairs. AutoZone (AZO) has over 150 stores in Mexico currently so is ideally positioned to take part in this trend.

Auto zone locations The development of Hybrid and Fuel Cell Vehicles and Electric Cars will provide both risk and opportunity for Autozone

As the basic mechanics of cars changes, Autozone will need to train its employees and buy new equipment. The changing landscape of cars will inevitably provide opportunities for new entry. Autozone’s favorable Economies of scale will be less significant in a changing market and add business risk. At the same time, its superior capital basis and market capitalization could give it the resources to adapt. When mass adoption of new automobile technology begins in full, watch how well Autozone deals with the change in comparison with its competitors.

At the same time, AZO’s suppliers have been experiencing a wave of consolidation. Auto part manufacturers, which operate in a generally troubled industry, have been consolidating via mergers in recent years. [7] A more concentrated vendor base for auto part retailers, then, limits the number of companies that the firm can purchase inventory from, and may provide suppliers with greater pricing power, putting pressure on AZO’s margins.

Auto zone locations Competition and Market Share

The do-it-yourself (DIY) auto-part aftermarket retailer industry is a highly competitive and generally fragmented $35 billion/year market. [8] . Companies compete on a mix of customer service, product selection, price, and location.

AZO competes with other major do-it-yourself retailers, like Advance Auto Parts (AAP) , O’Reilly Automotive (ORLY) , CSK Auto (CAO), Pep Boys-Manny, Moe Jack (PBY), and AutoNation (AN). It also competes with a highly fragmented base of small, single store mom-and-pop shops and do-it-yourself repair destinations, and indirectly with full-service mechanics and other automotive destinations that sell parts or repair vehicles.


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