Cabela’s customers continue to buy guns

First quarter same store sales are expected to increase in the high teens at Cabela’s and drive earnings substantially higher than analysts’ estimates, the retailer said late Tuesday in advance of an investor conference today.

Cabela’s reported a firearms and ammunition driven 12% same store sales increase for its fourth quarter ended December 29, 2012. When those results were released a month ago the company said the favorable trends seen in the fourth quarter had accelerated into the first quarter.

"We are pleased to report that this trend has continued through today," Cabela’s CEO Tommy Millner said Tuesday. "These improvements are in both our retail and direct channels. This growth is coming from most of our merchandise categories. As a result, we expect first quarter comparable store sales to increase at least at a high-teens rate."

As a result of the sales momentum, Millner said the company expects to report first quarter earnings that are 10 cents to 15 cents above current analysts’ consensus estimates.

While Millner indicated sales strength was evident in most categories, firearms and ammunition likely made a major contribution judging from trends evident in the fourth quarter. Excluding those categories, Cabela’s fourth quarter comp increase would have been 5% rather than 12%.