Panera Bread Guides Higher

It sees first-quarter earnings of 45 cents or 46 cents a share, including 3 cents of options expense.
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Panera Bread's

(PNRA)

fourth-quarter earnings rose 15% from a year ago, in line with estimates, and the bakery operator guided current-period results higher.

Panera earned $16.2 million, or 51 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $14 million, or 45 cents a share, a year ago. Sales rose 33% from a year ago to $173.3 million. Analysts had been forecasting earnings of 51 cents a share on sales of $172 million in the latest quarter.

"As indicated in the company's prior releases, the pre-opening costs and inefficiencies associated with the increased openings combined with higher market research costs were expected to result in slower growth in earnings in the fourth quarter," Panera said. "Fourth-quarter net income and earnings per diluted share of $16.2 million and 51 cents, respectively, exceeded the company's expectations at the start of the quarter (48 cents to 49 cents) as a result of the strength of comparable bakery-cafe sales. However, the higher-than-expected sales and earnings in the fourth quarter also led to increased incentive compensation costs during the quarter."

For the first quarter, Panera expects to earn 45 cents or 46 cents a share, including options expense of 3 cents a share. Analysts were forecasting 43 cents a share. The estimate contemplates systemwide same-store sales growth of 8% to 9%.

For 2006, Panera expects to earn $1.91 to $1.95 a share, including an options expense of 13 cents a share. Analysts were forecasting $2 a share, excluding the expense. The company said the guidance contemplates a systemwide same-store sales increase of 4% to 6%.

At Dec. 27, there were 877 Panera Bread bakery-cafes open, reflecting 53 bakery-cafes opened, one closed and 21 acquired during the fourth quarter.