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Panera Bread Raking In the Dough

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Company paints pretty picture for second quarter.

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With the rising cost of food and a U.S. consumer increasingly unwilling to part with their money, restaurants are a tough business to be in these days. Yet Panera Bread (PNRA), which franchises and owns more than 1,100 bakery-cafes around the country, seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much. According to CNBC, "Panera said it now expects to earn between $0.48 and $0.50 per share in the second quarter, up from an earlier forecast of $0.40 to $0.44 per share."

The upbeat forecast is due in part to the company's positive same-store sales trends. Management indicated it expects comparable sales at its company-owned stores to grow 6.1% to 6.4% in the period. (There was some other interesting forward-looking information baked into the company's second quarter outlook announcement, but more on that later.)

Right off the bat, these expected same-store sales numbers are impressive because the basis for comparison isn't low. In last year's second quarter, comparable sales at company-owned stores improved by 1.7%. Moreover, consider the performance of firms that offer similar fare. Starbucks (SBUX), for example, saw a "mid-single-digit decline in U.S. comparable store sales," according to its second quarter release.

In conjunction with first quarter results, Panera had forecast a second quarter comparable sales increase of between 5% and 6%. These days it's nice to see a company actually ratcheting up guidance, as opposed to torquing it down like so many others.

The company also indicated that it locked in about 95% of its wheat requirements for the first half of 2009 at roughly $10 a bushel - about 50% less than it paid in the first half of 2008. This could be enough to put many a fence-sitting investor's mind at ease.

All of this may lead the analyst community to tweak its earnings models, which could also have a positive impact on the stock.

Another noteworthy item, which wasn't part of the company's second quarter
announcement, is a fairly recent insider purchase. According to Yahoo Finance, on May 14th Charles Chapman III, a director, purchased 500 shares at prices ranging from $51.61 to $51.70. It's nice to see someone so high up the food chain buying shares in the upper end of the stock's 52-week trading range.

The downside amid all of this good news? Panera also indicated that -- no surprise here --gas prices are an issue and that it expects earnings will take a two to three cent hit in the latter part of the year. Management may provide further color on that subject when it releases its numbers on July 22nd.

Panera was up $2.55, or 5.6%, and closed at $48.11 in Wednesday trading.

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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