Empire Co. (TSE:EMP.A) reported Thursday an increase in earnings for the fourth quarter, and also boosted its yearly dividend to shareholders.
The operator of Sobeys, Canada's second-largest supermarket chain, is increasing its dividend as a result of a higher fourth quarter profit, to 24 cents per share, up from 22.5 cents.
The dividend is payable July 31 to shareholders of record on July 13.
Sobey noted that the 6.7 per cent dividend increase to 24 cents marked the 17th consecutive year of Empire dividend increases.
Net earnings, net of minority interest, were $92.1 million or $1.35 per share for the quarter that ended May 5, up from $82.5 million, or $1.21 per share, in the same year-ago quarter, which was one week longer.
Adjusted net earnings were $89.5 million or $1.32 per share, in the latest quarter, compared with $81.3 million or $1.20 per share in the same, yet longer, quarter of 2011.
Total sales were $4.07 billion, down from $4.15 billion a year earlier, after adjusting for the impact of the additional week of operations last year, and the acquisition of 236 retail gas locations and related convenience store operations in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012.
"We are clearly pleased with our fourth quarter and fiscal 2012 operating performance as we continue to profitably grow our food retail business and our investments and other operations in a very competitive environment," said president and CEO Paul Sobey.
Sales at established Sobeys stores, an important measure for retailers, rose 0.7 per cent.
By segment, Empire’s Sobeys contributed net earnings, net of minority interest, of $81.2 million, 6.8 per cent higher than the $76 million in the fourth quarter last year.
Other segments, including real estate interests, contributed a combined $10.9 million.
Meanwhile, the company announced that Bill McEwan was stepping down as president and CEO of Sobeys, effective on Friday, and would be replaced by Marc Poulin, currently president of Sobeys IGA operations.
In addition to its food stores, Empire holds a more than 40 per cent interest in Crombie Real Estate Investment Trust, a similar interest in Genstar Development Partnership and, through ETL Canada Holdings Ltd., operates Empire Theatres.
Empire’s shares were up 0.50 per cent trading at $54.27 as at 2:10 pm EDT Thursday.