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Originally published January 24, 2013 at 8:22 PM | Page modified January 25, 2013 at 9:50 AM

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Shareholders show Costco CEO the love as profit rises 17%

No complaints could be heard Thursday at Costco’s annual shareholder meeting in Bellevue, where CEO Craig Jelinek gave an upbeat review of the company’s past-year performance.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Thumbs up for the company that got rid of our dreaded state run liquor stores. MORE
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Right or wrong, Wall Street long has criticized Costco for not being very shareholder-friendly. It pays its employees too well — goes the argument — or it sells merchandise cheaper than necessary to win customers.

But none of those complaints could be heard Thursday at Costco’s annual shareholder meeting in Bellevue, where CEO Craig Jelinek gave an upbeat review of the company’s past-year performance.

The standing-room-only crowd at Meydenbauer Center cheered as Jelinek announced that Costco’s stock now trades around $103, just below its 52-week high of $105.97.

“We’ve done very well in a tough economy, and we’ll continue to do well in a tough economy,” Jelinek said.

Issaquah-based Costco posted a fiscal 2012 profit of $1.7 billion, up 17 percent from the previous year, as revenue rose 11 percent to $99.1 billion. It ranks as the world’s seventh largest retailer, averaging more than 2 million transactions daily at 622 warehouses, and has 62.2 million cardholders.

Jelinek, who took over as CEO last year from co-founder Jim Sinegal, kept with tradition and went through a series of highlights from 2012. Among them:

• Costco had 92 warehouses that each reported more than $200 million in annual sales.

• The chain’s Honolulu store boasted the most million-dollar days during the holiday sales season, with 32. Locally, the Issaquah store led with 13 million-dollar days.

• It sold 113,000 carats of jewelry, including a $103,000 diamond ring in Gaithersburg, Md.

• Customers bought 1.5 million pumpkin pies at $5.99 each over Thanksgiving.

• E-commerce sales in the U.S. and Canada reached $2.5 billion. The company recently began selling online in the U.K., and Mexico and Korea may be next.

But not everyone Thursday was pleased with Costco.

A member of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a free-market advocate based in Washington, D.C., questioned the company’s involvement in a retail trade group that is pushing for new sustainability standards, warning that they could lead to higher prices at checkout.

Jelinek, who spoke about the need for Costco to ensure the long-term availability of goods, replied that low prices remain a top priority.

“We’re not in business to try to figure out how to raise prices,” he said. “Our purpose is to figure out how to reduce costs and do it in an intelligent way.”

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com. Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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