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Aztar Slammed on Earnings

Investors cashed in their chips on Aztar (AZR) Thursday after the casino company reported a disappointing fourth quarter.

The results fell far short of expectations and prompted at least two Wall Street analysts to downgrade the stock. Others scrambled to lower estimates.

Shares plummeted $4.11, or 12.5%, to $28.78. More than 2.2 million shares changed hands by late morning.

Late Wednesday, Aztar announced fourth-quarter net income of $2.3 million, or 5 cents a share, down 81% from $11.7 million, or 32 cents a share, a year earlier. The average analyst estimate was for 28 cents a share, according to Thomson First Call.

Revenue of $192.7 million was up 4.0% from $185.3 million a year earlier but far short of the $202.3 million Wall Street was expecting.

In reaction, Bear Stearns analyst Joseph Greff slashed his rating on Aztar stock to underperform from peer perform, calling the results "sloppy." (Bear Stearns does and seeks to do business with companies covered in its research reports.)

Greff wrote in a research note that his downgrade was based on expectations of a slower ramp-up of Aztar's expanded Tropicana casino in Atlantic City, N.J., a longer timeline for the redevelopment of its Las Vegas Tropicana and the company's "new willingness" to be acquisitive.

"While we believe that there is value in its Las Vegas real estate, we think all of the above mentioned points will cause Aztar's shares to underperform a peer group that has relatively strong fundamentals," Greff wrote. "As such, we think the shares, at around $33, are a poor risk reward."

Harry Curtis, an analyst at J.P. Morgan, cut his 2005 EPS estimate to $1.60 from $1.75 and reiterated his underperform rating on the stock. (J.P. Morgan does and seeks to do business with companies covered in its research reports.)

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