Costco Wholesale (COST) is taking a calculated risk. The nation's biggest warehouse-club operator has been holding back raising prices amid...

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Costco Wholesale (COST) is taking a calculated risk. The nation’s biggest warehouse-club operator has been holding back raising prices amid surging oil prices, even though margins are being squeezed.

The Issaquah-based company hopes it can wait longer than competitors, struggling with the same issue, so it can attract more customers to its stores.

Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club (BJ) and Wal-Mart Stores’ (WMT) Sam’s Club have benefited from the tough spending climate, as customers shop at discount and bulk retailers to save money, especially on gasoline. But oil has more than doubled from a year ago, boosting their costs and cutting margins.

Costco last week said it expects to miss Wall Street’s fourth-quarter profit estimate of $1 a share. PiperJaffray analyst Mitchell A. Kaiser, who rates the stock “neutral,” says its margins are tough to predict, as they vary with raw-material prices, but he expects margins to weaken.

Jefferies & Co. analyst Daniel Binder cut his rating on BJ’s to “hold” from “buy,” saying it may be forced to hold back price increases to remain competitive.

The analyst says improved sales traffic for warehouse operators due to high gas prices could wane if oil continues to ease. But he notes the companies’ margins on gas could improve as wholesale prices decline.