Meanwhile, in other news, the company raised its quarterly dividend by $0.02/share, or 11%, to $0.20/share.
The company announced that it has completed its acquisition of 12 retail and commercial locations in Tennessee from Free Service Tire Company, filling in an existing market and expanding its footprint in the South. The company also acquired four wholesale centers as part of the transaction, located in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, significantly increasing its tire purchasing and distribution efficiencies.
Fiscal 2018 was a 53-week year with 368 selling days as compared to 361 selling days in fiscal 2017, and therefore included an extra week of sales in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the extra week of sales, the total sales increase for the fourth quarter of $33.6 mln included an increase in sales from new stores of $13.8 mln, including sales from recent acquisitions of $8.7 mln.
Moving a little further down the income statement, the company's gross margin increased 70 basis points to 37.7% in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018 from 37.0% in the prior year period, primarily due to leverage from higher comparable store sales.
On the downside, total operating expenses increased by $4.2 mln year/year to $77.3 mln, or 27.1% of sales, as compared to $73.1 mln, or 29.0% of sales in the prior year period. The year/year dollar increase represents expenses from 32 net new stores, $1.0 mln in management transition costs, as well as expenses related to the extra week.
The company exited the quarter with solid industry tailwinds, improving operating performance, a disciplined acquisition strategy and newly implemented initiatives to drive improvement across the organization.
The company believes that it has a clear path for future growth and thinks it can carry this strong momentum through fiscal year 2019 and beyond.
Well, for now, shares are trading lower, which follows the open of the market and follows its financial guidance for fiscal 2019, which was just given on its Investor Day conference call that begin at 8:00 a.m. EDT today.