CHICAGO — Grainger reported results for the third quarter 2020 with sales of $3.0 billion, up 2.4% and up 4.6% on an organic daily basis compared to the third quarter 2019 driven by significant share gains in the U.S. segment and strong growth in the endless assortment businesses.
“I am extremely proud of the Grainger team for delivering strong results in both our U.S. high-touch and endless assortment businesses, as we continued to support new and existing customers, while prioritizing team member safety,” said DG Macpherson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “In the third quarter, we captured significant market share by delivering on our core growth initiatives. We also continued to prudently manage our costs and saw sequential margin improvement as non-pandemic volume improved in the quarter. These strong results and stabilizing trends show the value that Grainger brings to customers every day.”
Daily sales for the quarter increased 2.4% as compared to the 2019 third quarter. Organic daily sales, which exclude revenues from the divested Fabory and China businesses from the prior year results, increased 4.6% as compared to the 2019 third quarter. These sales increases were fueled by share gains in the U.S. segment and significant growth in the endless assortment businesses which more than offset declines in the Canada segment.
U.S. Segment sales were up 3.1%, outgrowing the U.S. MRO market which declined an estimated 5% to 6%. This increase was driven largely by higher volume of pandemic-related products, partially offset by year-over-year decreases in non-pandemic product sales. The declines in non-pandemic product sales continued to moderate, while growth in pandemic product sales remained elevated, but began to ease from the levels experienced earlier in the year.
There was no material impact from foreign exchange rates during the 2020 third quarter and the third quarter of 2019 and 2020 had the same number of selling days.
Gross Profit Margin
Reported and adjusted gross profit margin for the third quarter of 2020 was 35.6%. This compares to reported and adjusted gross profit margin in the third quarter of 2019 of 37.3%. The unfavorable variance was driven by pandemic-related mix headwinds, particularly noticeable in our U.S. segment, and the continued business unit mix impact from the faster growth in our lower-margin endless assortment businesses.
Reported operating earnings for the 2020 third quarter of $380 million were up 12% versus $338 million in the 2019 third quarter. On an adjusted basis, operating earnings for the quarter of $374 million were up 10% versus $339 million in the 2019 third quarter.
Reported operating margin of 12.6% increased 110 basis points in the third quarter of 2020 versus the prior year third quarter. Adjusted operating margin of 12.4% in this quarter increased 90 basis points versus the prior year third quarter. The increase in adjusted operating margin was due primarily to 260 basis points of SG&A leverage achieved in the third quarter due to cost reduction actions in our high-touch solutions model and leverage gains within our endless assortment businesses.
Reported earnings per share of $4.41 in the third quarter of 2020 were up 4% versus $4.25 in the 2019 third quarter. Adjusted earnings per share in this quarter of $4.52 increased 6% versus $4.26 in the 2019 third quarter. The increase in earnings per share was due primarily to higher operating earnings and lower average shares outstanding in the current period, partially offset by a higher tax rate.
Third quarter 2020 reported tax rate was 29.3% versus 24.2% in the 2019 third quarter. The difference was primarily related to the divestiture of the Fabory business. Excluding net restructuring and non-recurring income tax items, the adjusted tax rates were 26.5% and 24.2% for the three months ended September 30, 2020 and September 30, 2019, respectively.
Operating cash flow was $311 million in the 2020 third quarter compared to $320 million in the 2019 third quarter. The decrease in operating cash flow was primarily driven by investments in working capital, primarily inventory, enabling us to better serve our customers. These investments more than offset higher net earnings. During the third quarter of 2020, Grainger announced a dividend increase, marking its 49th consecutive annual increase, and returned $82 million in the form of dividends to shareholders. The company fully repaid its revolving credit facility in the third quarter and intends to restart its share repurchase program in the fourth quarter of 2020.