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Barron's Costco Wholesale Is Losing Its CFO. Will It Gain a Higher Membership Fee?

Costco Wholesale’s longtime chief financial officer is retiring, but one analyst says the executive might have a final parting gift for investors.

Costco stock has leapt from strength to strength in recent years. It thrived during the pandemic, and hasn’t slowed down in recent years as the retailer’ focus on value resonated with consumers pinched by inflation.

The shares have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past year and since the start of 2024. Investors who purchased Costco stock when Barron’s recommended it in late 2022 have seen it climb more than 65%.

Given that performance, it’s understandable if investors were sad to hear Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti planned to retire on March 15 after more than three decades on the job. He will be succeeded by former Kroger finance chief Gary Millerchip. The news came just months after Costco’s longtime chief executive, Craig Jelinek, also announced his retirement. His successor Ron Vachris took the helm Jan. 1.

Still, Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom says Galanti could go out with a bang—namely by announcing a much-awaited membership fee increase.

Aside from Costco’s regular quarterly financial results, investors have long been hoping for Costco to announce two semiregular catalysts—a special dividend and higher membership fees.

Costco announced the former in December, saying it would pay special cash dividend of $15 per common share, payable Jan. 12.

However, an increase in Costco’s membership fee appears overdue: It hasn’t happened since June 2017. The Gold Star membership fee is currently $60, while an Executive membership costs $120. The company declined to comment.

“Historically, Costco has raised its membership fee every 5 years (or 66 months) but for a variety of factors, including elevated inflation and a slowing macro backdrop in 2022/2023, management has delayed a fee hike,” writes Grom.

The upshot is that it’s now been 84 months since Costco last raised the cost of membership. Inflation readings have been mixed in recent months, but inflation’s pace has definitely slackened closer to more normalized levels. Taken together, “we believe the probability of a fee increase rises with each passing month,” notes Grom.