Dollar Tree CEO Gary Philbin told CNBC on Thursday that the company noticed a bump in sales related to coronavirus stimulus checks this spring. 

“Without a doubt we see it. The further we get away from that, it will be interesting to see how customers respond,” Philbin said on “Squawk on the Street.”

The discount retailer usually observes a sales spike related to tax refunds, Philbin said. But the increase following the disbursement of stimulus checks — part of the government’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package in March — has been tax refunds “on steroids,” he said. 

“And it’s gone a long way to help our customer have money in their pockets during this critical time,” Philbin said. 

Shares of Dollar Tree closed up 11.55% Thursday after the retailer announced, before the market opened, earnings and revenue in the first quarter that beat expectations.

Dollar Tree, which bought Family Dollar in 2015, benefited in Q1 from a surge in consumer demand for stay-at-home essentials as state lockdowns to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus took effect.

However, Dollar Tree said it withdrew full-year guidance due to pandemic uncertainty over rising unemployment, the impact of states starting to reopen their economies and the scope of any further government stimulus.

Dollar Tree said it earned $1.04 per share on $6.29 billion in sales in the first quarter ending May 2.

An increase of 7% in overall same-store sales in the first quarter was also better than expected. While Dollar Tree stores saw a 0.9% decline in sales, Family Dollar-branded stores surged 15.5%.

Rival Dollar General also saw a surge in coronavirus-driven consumer demand, with first-quarter profit of $2.56 per share on revenue of nearly $8.5 billion, beating on the top and bottom lines. Dollar General said Thursday morning that same-store sales soared 21.7% in Q1, more than doubling estimates. The company withdrew the guidance it issued in March.

Shares of Dollar General notched a fresh 52-week high Thursday but ultimately settled down 1.65%. 

Philbin said he is leaning on Dollar Tree’s experience during the Great Recession for insight in navigating the economic devastation from the coronavirus. “It’s another data point where customers came to us, more foot traffic back in that time. Right now, it’s more about people are coming in and shopping with intent,” he explained. 

Philbin noted that the enhanced unemployment benefits, which give people an extra $600 per week, are set to expire at the end of July. “So that will be another marker for us to watch how our customer responds,” he said. 

“But I think we’re geared up with the right kind of values and convenience for these customers, many of them seeing us for the first time,” he said.

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