Giant U.S. auto parts retailer AutoZone, Inc., today reported a substantial rise in fourth quarter and yearly earnings. AutoZone reported earnings per share of $1.73, a 62% increase from earnings per share of $1.07 before restructuring and impairment charges in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2001. All figures in U.S. dollars. Including the charges in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2001, EPS increased 621% from $0.24. Sales for the fourth fiscal quarter (17 weeks) ended August 31, 2002, increased 12% to $1.84 billion from $1.64 billion reported for the year ago quarter (16 weeks). Excluding the fiscal 2001 sales of TruckPro, which was sold in December, total sales increased 16%. Same store sales, or sales for domestic auto parts stores open at least one year, increased 6.6% during the quarter. Gross margin for the quarter, as a percent of sales, increased 1.94 percentage points to 45.7%. Net operating expenses were 28.8% of sales, resulting in a record quarterly operating margin of 16.9%. For the year (53 weeks), AutoZone reported diluted earnings per share of $4.00, an increase of 68% from $2.38 in fiscal 2001 (52 weeks), excluding the nonrecurring charges in the prior year. Including the charges, reported earnings per share were up 160%. The $4.00 EPS is double the $2.00 per share earned in fiscal 2000. Annual sales rose 10.5% to $5.32 billion from $4.82 billion in the prior year; excluding the sales of TruckPro, total sales increased 13%. Same store sales for the year increased 8.8%. Gross margin as a percent of sales increased by 2.19 percentage points to 44.6%. Net operating expenses declined to 30.1% of sales, resulting in a record annual operating margin of 14.5%. Driven by strong earnings and declining working capital, return on invested capital reached 19.8%, while cash flow before share repurchases was $730 million. “We are very pleased with our exceptional performance this year,” said Steve Odland, Chairman, president, and chief executive officer. “It took a concerted effort from all AutoZoners to make this happen. Clearly our focus on reminding consumers to maintain their cars and beginning to capture the $60 billion annual undone maintenance has been successful.” In the fourth quarter, AutoZone opened 30 new auto parts stores in the U.S., replaced 3 and closed 14. For the year, AutoZone opened 102 new auto parts stores in the U.S., replaced 15 and closed 53 for an end-of-year store count of 3,068. In addition, 12 new auto parts stores were opened in Mexico in the fourth quarter, for a total of 18 new stores in Mexico for the year. At year end, AutoZone had a total of 39 stores in Mexico. During the quarter, AutoZone’s Board of Directors authorized an increase in the share repurchase program of $300 million to an aggregate authorization of $2.3 billion. As of the end of the fourth quarter, aggregate share repurchases were $2.086 billion or 61.9 million shares, including $150 million or 2.2 million shares under forward purchase contracts. For the quarter, AutoZone repurchased 4.3 million shares at a cost of $287 million or $66.13 per share. For the year, AutoZone repurchased 12.6 million shares at a cost of $699 million or $55.51 per share. Subsequent to year end, the company purchased 1.1 million shares in partial settlement of the forward purchase contract outstanding at August 31, 2002, at an average cost of $69.91 per share.