D&K Healthcare

(DKWD)

saw its shares punished in the late session after saying first-quarter earnings would be about half what it previously predicted.

The drug wholesaler cited sales and margins that were below plan, principally its national chain segment, a business it described as "variable from month to month historically, driven largely by opportunistic purchases from pharmaceutical companies for distribution primarily to national chains."

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D&K expects to earn 13 cents to 17 cents a share in the quarter ending this month, down from a previous forecast of 30 to 31 cents a share and the consensus analyst estimate of 31 cents. First-quarter sales are expected to fall 3% to 5% from last year's sales of $529.1 million.

On Instinet, the shares were off 50% to $11.79 each.

The company withdrew its guidance for 2003, saying it was in the process of reassessing customer demand, industry trends and projections, and said it hoped to provide updated forecasts during an October conference call.

D&K said growth in sales to the independent and regional pharmacy trade class has trended below internal expectations in the first two months of the quarter. It now expects the segment to achieve growth of approximately 10%, year-over-year, in the first quarter.