Grainger Sales Rise, but Earnings, Margins Slip Amid ‘Slow,’ ‘Steady’ Demand

The MRO giant reaffirmed its earlier forecast for the full year.

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Grainger on Thursday reported stronger sales in the first quarter of 2024, but its earnings and profit margins slid year-over-year.

The MRO distribution giant — long the top company on ID’s Big 50 — posted net sales of $4.2 billion between January and March, up from just shy of $4.1 billion in the same period of 2023. Gross profit also increased by more than 2% over that span.

Operating earnings, however, were down 1.6% year-over-year, while net earnings attributable to Grainger fell by 2%. Gross profit margin and operating margin were down by 50 basis points and 80 basis points, respectively.

Diluted earnings per share edged up 0.1%.

Grainger officials characterized the results as “solid” amid a “slow, but steady demand environment.” The company reaffirmed its initial forecast of 4.3% to 7.3% sales growth for the full year, and noted that first-quarter organic sales were up by nearly 5% on a daily average basis.

The sale of the company’s E&R Industrial Sales subsidiary, along with the impact of foreign currency exchange, dented its overall sales number.

"Looking to the remainder of the year, we are well-positioned to achieve our guidance outlook as we work to provide a flawless experience and deliver tangible value for our customers,” Grainger Chairman and CEO D.G. Macpherson said in a statement.

The company’s High-Touch Solutions division, which primarily serves larger customers, saw growth across “all geographies” and an overall increase of 3.4% in sales on a daily average basis. The Endless Assortment business, which includes its Zoro and MonotaRO e-commerce operations and focuses on smaller customers, posted a daily average increase in sales of 3.7%. Strong sales from core Zoro customers and enterprise MonotaRO customers helped offset a non-core decline at Zoro.

The first-quarter report followed the company’s annual shareholders meeting at its suburban Chicago headquarters. Shareholders approved 13 members of the company’s board — including Macpherson — as well as authorized an independent auditor for 2024 and a resolution on “say on pay” for executive compensation.

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