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Costco (NASDAQ: COST ) stock continues its march higher. With stockholders having recovered all of their losses from last fall's sell-off, many might wonder where Costco stock goes from here. Amid the company's successes, valuations remain higher than that of most peers.
Moreover, with the stock price returning to the highs of last September, investors may want some assurance that COST stock will not see a double top. However, given the company's past growth and prospects for future expansion, I see COST stock as a buy on any pullback.
Costco Stock Is Expensive, but Worth It
Those wanting Costco bargains should look inside their warehouse instead of at Costco stock. COST currently trades at a forward price-to-earnings (PE) ratio of around 29.4. Although one can argue that that comes in lower than Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN ), Amazon derives most of its profit outside of retail. Either way, Costco trades at a valuation premium above that of Walmart (NYSE: WMT ), Target (NYSE: TGT ), and its peer on the eastern seaboard, BJ's Wholesale (NYSE: BJ ).
Over the last five years, Costco's PE has averaged around 29.4. Hence, Costco stock has not moved far ahead of its average. Moreover, it benefits from a high degree of customer loyalty. This shows in a renewal rate of around 90% and its profit growth. Yes, customers pay a membership fee that amounts to pure profit for Costco. But in exchange, they pay little more than the cost of goods sold plus overhead for items. That may help explain why analysts have forecasted that earnings will increase 12.3% this year and 6.9% in fiscal 2020.
Costco Can Keep Expanding for Decades
I also like the prospects for expansion. Yes, they currently operate in 44 states, and they cover most of America's large metros. However, tremendous potential exists in somewhat smaller markets. For example, in Texas, Costco operates only three warehouses located outside of the San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth metro areas. Moreover, the company only operates two warehouses in Georgia outside of metro Atlanta. Hence, domestic saturation remains years away.
Moreover, Costco has succeeded with international expansions. It has avoided the high-profile failures such as Target Canada or the pullouts like Walmart experienced in Germany and Brazil. In addition to Canada and Mexico, the company continues to add warehouses in Europe, East Asia and Australia.
When to Buy Costco Stock
The question for investors revolves around when to buy? Those holding out for a forward PE like the current 11.5 on Target will likely end up disappointed. However, Costco stock goes on sale periodically. During last fall's stock sell-off, COST fell as much as 22% before it began to recover. COST also saw corrections during the middle of the decade, as investors feared an "Amazon takeover" of retail. Anytime Costco has offered a 10-20% discount from its 29 forward PE, investors have profited by buying. I do not expect that to change soon.
The Bottom Line on Costco Stock
Investors should consider Costco stock a buy on any significant pullback. At just under 30 times forward earnings, some buyers may balk at paying such a multiple for a retailer. Moreover, with the stock trading at levels from which it previously fell, some might want to buy COST stock at this level.
However, Costco stock has traded at PE in the high 20s or low 30s for several years. Moreover, for most of that time, profits have maintained a double-digit growth rate on average. Further, outside of North America, Costco has succeeded where Walmart and Target have failed. This ensures that the company can continue to add new warehouses for decades.
The stock trades marginally above its average historical multiples. For this reason, I see it as a buy only for long-term investors. However, industry or macroeconomic conditions often lead to corrections in COST. If Costco stock falls to a PE ratio in the mid-20s or lower, investors should buy in bulk.
As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. You canfollow Will on Twitterat @HealyWriting .
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