ISSAQUAH, Wash. — Costco Wholesale Corp. here said gasoline sales squeezed the company’s margins in the first quarter, but gross-margin gains on core items, including food, helped the chain meet analysts’ estimates for profitability. In a conference call yesterday, the company said gross margins in its key product areas — food and sundries; hard lines; soft lines; and fresh foods — were up 41 basis points in the 12-week period, which ended Nov. 25, compared with the first quarter of a year ago. Comparable-store sales were up 8% for the quarter, or 4% excluding gasoline. The sales and margin gains helped drive net income up 10.6% for the quarter, to about $262 million, compared with year-ago results. Revenues, including $338 million in membership fees, were up 11.7% to $15.8 billion. The company said savings, general and administrative expenses were 10.15% of sales in the first quarter of this year, vs. 9.98% of sales in the first quarter of a year ago, in part because of a repayment to employees for their part in reducing health care costs.
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