Outback Steakhouse


Chief Financial Officer Robert Merritt stalked off the job Thursday, saying he'd retire next month.

Merritt's announcement came at the end of a conference call to report Outback's earnings for the first quarter.

"It was a complete surprise," says Michael Smith, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co.

Merritt, who has been Outback's CFO since 1990, said he was disturbed with a spate of new accounting regulations that make him spend "more time and resources on regulatory matters than supporting the company." The recent revision for lease accounting was the last straw, he said.

Outback Thursday reported a net profit of $51 million, or 66 cents per share, for the first quarter ended March 31, as compared with $47.8 million, or 61 cents per diluted share, a year ago.

The earnings fell a penny short of analyst expectations of 67 cents.

Revenue for the quarter rose 12.8% to $895 million as compared to analyst estimates of $930 million. Income from operations also rose 6.5% to $83.7 million.

Same-store sales in Outback restaurants declined 0.4% for the quarter, but sales at the Carrabba's Italian Grills division rose 4.3%.

The company's stock declined 2.3% to $42.76.