Best Buy's shoppers may be holding out on updating their aging smartphones, but they still love their gadgets.
The retailer reported a robust holiday season on Wednesday, topping Wall Street forecasts for sales and profits in the fourth quarter, which sent its stock price soaring hours before the opening bell.
Shares ended the day up 14 percent at $68.82.
Holiday-period sales at the Richfield-based company rose 3 percent compared with the same period a year ago, blowing past the 2 percent estimate most had expected.
Shoppers showed strong demand for gaming, appliances, smartphones and wearables such as headphones, Fitbits and smartwatches.
Net income was $735 million, or $2.69 a share, in the quarter that ended Feb. 2. That was up from $364 million, or $1.23 a share, from the same period a year ago. The big jump came largely from a lower tax bite from changes to the federal law as well as a more favorable mix of high-margin products.
When adjusting for one-time costs, the company reported that earnings per share jumped 12 percent to $2.72, much higher than the $2.56 that analysts had predicted.
Results from the nation's largest consumer electronics company helped to ease concerns that consumers might have been less willing to spend following a recent downbeat report from the U.S. Commerce Department.
Other retailers — including Walmart, Lowe's, Macy's and the parent company of TJ Maxx and Marshalls — also have turned in strong earnings for holiday quarters. Target reports earnings on Tuesday.
Without offering specifics, Best Buy Chief Executive Hubert Joly said sales during the winter gift-giving season followed the "black November" pattern. Consumers took advantage of early deals ahead of the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday frenzy and continued to shop.
"We saw our customers increasingly interact with us over all of our channels," Joly said in a morning conference call with analysts.
Fourth-quarter results account for more than half of annual profits and more than a third of revenue at Best Buy.
Total revenue fell 3.7 percent to $14.8 billion during the quarter, but still beat expectations of $14.7 billion.
The company stressed that the fiscal year was a week shorter than last year, a swing of about $760 million in revenue and about 20 cents in adjusted earnings in the fourth quarter.
The company also took a hit after shuttering its 257 Best Buy Mobile stores as well as a dozen large-format stores during the year.
Sales of mobile phones declined in the quarter, which company leaders said reflects a general maturation of the market as well as consumers' reluctance to replace current models with more expensive ones.
Online sales continue to be a strong spot for the company. Nearly 22 percent of all sales came from digital shoppers, Joly said. For the quarter, online sales jumped 9 percent.
"Best Buy continues to generate increasing traction in its multichannel quest, with both brick-and-mortar and online posting impressive performances" for both the fourth quarter and the full year, Moody's analyst Charlie O'Shea said in a note to investors.
O'Shea said Best Buy's 6.6 percent operating margin reflects "meaningful year-over-year improvement."
It was the seventh consecutive quarter the company has turned in comparable store sales increases of 3 percent or more.
For the year, same-store sales grew 4.8 percent, with a jump of more than 10 percent in online sales growth.
Total annual revenue was almost $42.9 billion, up about 1.7 percent despite the calendar shift. Earnings per share were up 20 percent to $5.20.
It was a busy year for expanding into new markets and accelerating the rollout of successful small-scale pilots.
During the year, the company purchased GreatCall, a digital monitoring and emergency call service aimed at keeping older adults safe in their homes. At $800 million in cash, it was the retailer's largest-ever acquisition into a market that will grow in the decades ahead as the baby boom generation grows older.
Best Buy also launched a subscription service called Total Tech Support, which gives consumers unlimited help in stores, online or over the phone for about $200 a year.
The company said it now has more than 1 million subscribers to the program, which relies on Geek Squad staff. Best Buy also said it has beefed up staff for its free in-home adviser services, growing from 300 to more than 530 people.
When consumers use these services, they often end up making purchases that bring in higher revenue and gross profits than online or in-store purchases, Joly said.
Piper Jaffray senior research analyst Peter Keith noted that Best Buy met its long-term targets two years early and came in at the high end of its guidance.
Keith believes the retailer has "a highly favorable outlook" given its success with programs that serve an aging population as well as services that help consumers keep their gadgets working — and working together.
Computers and mobile phones still comprise about half of Best Buy's sales. For that reason, analyst Camilla Yanushevsky of CFRA Research, sees rough waters ahead. The firm downgraded Best Buy shares from a hold rating to a sell.
Yanushevsky expects profit margins to be under pressure through fiscal year 2021. The market for phones "approaches oversaturation," she said, while Apple continues to expand distribution and competition from Amazon intensifies.
Meanwhile, Joly said he expects a "positive consumer environment" in 2019 and that there are plenty of exciting products in the pipeline. He noted that the U.S. retail market size of "internet of things" connected hardware is forecast to triple by 2025.
For the year ahead, the company projected sales to grow 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent. It estimates adjusted earnings of $5.45 to $5.65 per share for the fiscal year.