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Market Preview: That Sinking Feeling

"While there remains considerable uncertainty regarding the Just 4 U [a store loyalty program] rollout and its impact on customer traffic, we think the main scrutiny in 3Q should be on the operating income level," wrote Cantor analyst Ajay Jain. "In addition to the sales impact of Just 4 U, the spending associated with the program could also weigh on profitability."

Jain also highlighted worries about Safeway's balance sheet, mentioning this may be the motivation for the company's Sept. 5 announcement of plans for an initial public offering of a minority stake in its Blackhawk Network Holdings prepaid gift card business.

"We estimate that Safeway's total Debt/EBITDAR [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and rent] for 2012 is already at the critical 4.0x threshold for the rating agencies (above which it is unlikely to maintain its investment grade rating)," he wrote. "Based on what we view as a deteriorating FCF [free cash flow] situation and increased balance sheet risk, we believe the main rationale of the planned Blackhawk IPO could be to shore up much needed cash to pay down debt."

Check out TheStreet's quote page for Safeway for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.

Other companies slated to report on Thursday include Emmis Communications (EMMS), Fastenal (FAST), J.B. Hunt Transport Services (JBHT), Sycamore Networks (SCMR), Winnebago Industries (WGO), and Zep (ZEP).

The economic calendar features weekly initial and continuing jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET; trade balance data for August at 8:30 a.m. ET; export and import prices for September at 8:30 a.m. ET, and weekly crude inventories at 11 a.m. ET.

This weekly initial claims number is likely to get more attention than most after the improvement in the September jobs report. The consensus is calling for claims to tick up to 370,000 from 367,000 in the prior week, according to, whose own forecast is a bit worse at 375,000.

And finally, Ruby Tuesday (RT - Get Report) was a big loser in late trades on Wednesday after the Maryville, Tenn.-based restaurant operator reported an in-line profit for its fiscal first quarter but gave an outlook that hints at some downside to Wall Street expectations for the full year.

The company said it sees earnings excluding items of 24 to 34 cents a share for its fiscal year ending in May with same-restaurant sales projected between flat and up 2%. The current average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for earnings of 28 cents a share. The stock was last quoted at $6.57, down more than 6%, on volume of nearly 450,000, according to

-- Written by Michael Baron in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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