AutoZone ($AZO) has revved up its growth.

The US parts retailer is seeing higher expectations from Zacks Investment Research, which tracked analysts who expect the company to report EPS of $15.23 per share in its earnings announcement before the market opens on May 21. 

Investors are also increasingly bullish on the stock, pushing it near the all-time high of $1,000 per share which AutoZone could surpass with a big earnings beat Tuesday. Heading into what could be a critical earnings report, we break down key alternative data that highlight where AutoZone is growing — and how it is taking on challengers. 

Still Adding Staff

One helpful factor to track heading into earnings season is headcount; if there is a steep drop in staff employed, it may be due to the fact a company is doing less business. Investors probably need not have that concern when it comes to AutoZone — the company's headcount via LinkedIn ($MSFT) tally has steadily increased over the last few years. 

More Foot Traffic... Just at a Slower Pace

Based on our Facebook ($FB) Were Here Count — this tracks check-ins, mobile device shares, and photo-location tags are made in a place related to a business with a Facebook account — we learned two things about AutoZone: the first is that it's continuing to enjoy growing foot traffic, but the second is that this could be slowing.

AutoZone has opened hundreds of new stores in the last decade, and added both staff and foot traffic in the process. And there's still more good news about this chart. 

But AutoZone Foot Traffic Outpaces Key Competition

Here we have the same chart, as the one for AutoZone, tracking the Facebook Were Here Count for O'Reilly Automotive ($ORLY), a top competitor. We can tell a few things from this chart: one, that according to the Facebook Were Here Count, AutoZone has had faster growth in foot traffic than its California-based competitor. 

This is especially noteworthy because AutoZone hasn't matched O'Reilly Automotive's pace opening new stores for the last several years. But for now AutoZone wins on both foot traffic as well as share price. 

There is one additional factor that could weigh in substantially for AutoZone: The Federal Reserve. For years, car sales have hovered around post-crisis highs - but the central bank may have put a crimp in this rebound by increasing interest rates. Keeping them where they are now, or even raising them, would almost certainly steer new and used car sales downward.  

This will put auto consumers with poorer credit in a difficult position first. That is: they won't be able to access the cheap financing for cars (new or used) that has gone hand-in-hand with lower lending rates. If that happens, they will be stuck with their current clunkers for longer. 

A consumer holding onto their car for longer likely translates to more repairs, maintenance and upkeep. And that will play right into the hands of auto parts stores like AutoZone. 

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