Earnings wrap: Kirkland's, First Farmers

Retailer's stock pops on strong sales, buyback news; community bank sees 8% loan growth

Home goods retailer Kirkland's posted a profit of almost $2.1 million in its first fiscal quarter, an increase of 16 percent from last year, on the back of strong sales growth. Per diluted share, the company earned 12 cents, two cents better than analysts had been looking for.

Total sales during the quarter came in at more than $108 million, up from $101 million in the first part of 2013. Same-store numbers climbed 5.0 percent — despite being affected by winter weather early in the quarter — helping lift gross margins to 39.4 percent.

"Despite a somewhat more promotional environment late in the quarter, sales remained strong leading to earnings performance at the high end of our guidance," said President and CEO Robert Alderson. "The year thus far is proceeding according to our plan, and we continue to expect benefits for the balance of the year from our investments in store growth, merchandise systems, e-commerce and branding initiatives."

Alderson and his team plan to grow their square footage by about 10 percent this year by opening 35 to 40 stores — most of them in the second half of the year — and closing between 10 and 15 outlets. They reiterated their EPS outlook and see margins continuing to grow from a year ago.

The company also said that its board has voted to launch a two-year stock buyback plan of up to $30 million, which is about 10 percent of Kirkland's market value today. That and the strong sales numbers caught the eye of investors, who pushed Kirkland's shares up more than 10 percent in Thursday morning trading. At about 11:15 a.m., the stock (Ticker: KIRK) was changing hands at $18.84, up 13 percent on the day. Year to date, Kirkland's is still down 20 percent.

The parent of First Farmers & Merchants Bank posted a first-quarter profit of $2.3 million, a drop of 26 percent from last year, when the company booked more than $800,000 in gains on the sale of securities. Loans at the Columbia-based bank grew 8 percent year over year to $611 million while total assets rose slightly to $1.1 billion. (Click here for the bank's call report.)

"Overall, this is a great start for our bank in 2014 and I am pleased with our performance," said Chairman and CEO Randy Stevens in a statement. "We were able to attract new loans and deposits despite the unusually harsh weather in the first quarter. Our growth underscores our strengthening position in the marketplace and having the right team in place in each of the communities we serve."

First Farmers earlier this year announced plans to open an office in Green Hills this fall. The branch will be its 19th in eight area counties.