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Raymond James Cuts Rating on Applebee's

Applebee's International (APPB

; $22.64) shares moved lower Wednesday after the restaurant operator said it sees third quarter earnings per share of 32 cents to 35 cents. Raymond James downgraded its investment recommendation on Applebee's to market perform from outperform on Wednesday, citing problems in the restaurant's sales.

Analyst Bryan Elliot says same-store customer counts fell over 4% in the quarter, with the performance of the Midwest and New England regions materially below expectations. He notes that the company's earnings per share guidance implies EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) margin declines in excess of 100 basis points for the year.

Elliott believes the company's recent marketing campaigns have failed to resonate with customers. The analyst expects to see Applebee's earn 32 cents to 35 cents per share during the third quarter. He changed his 2005 estimates on the stock to $1.35 earnings per share from $1.46. Seeing limited near-term upside for the shares, Elliott also cut his earnings per share estimate for 2006 to $1.55 from $1.70.

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