Panera 3rd-Q revs jump 35%

RICHMOND HEIGHTS Mo. Panera Bread Co. credited margin improvement and a corporate same-store sales increase of 1.5 percent for the four weeks ended Sept. 25 for a third-quarter earnings projection above Wall Street’s target.

The 1,115-unit bakery-cafe company, based here, narrowed its third-quarter earnings projections to a range of 35 cents to 37 cents per share, from a previous target of 32 cents to 38 cents per share. That estimate is above Thompson Financial’s projection of 34 cents per share. In the year-ago third quarter, Panera posted per-share earnings of 34 cents.

The company reported that third-quarter revenues increased 35 percent to $276 million for the 13 weeks ended Sept. 25, compared with $205 million in the year-ago third quarter.

Same-store sales for September increased 0.8 percent, reflecting gains of 1.5 percent for corporate units and 0.3 percent for franchised units. Systemwide same-store sales for the quarter were up 2.6 percent.

Stock analyst Ashley Woodruff of Friedman, Billings & Ramsey cautioned in a research note that Panera’s systemwide comparable sales in September were considerably lower than the 5.9 percent reported for September 2006 and that high commodity and labor costs do not bode well for the rest of this year.

Panera and its franchisees opened 35 bakery-cafes during the quarter and closed two, the company said.

Panera’s stock rose 8 percent on Wednesday to close at $46.57.