Applied Materials Loss Widens

Prudential misses estimates; Interstate Bakeries shares flatten; plus more of today's stocks in the news

After the close of trading Tuesday, Applied Materials (AMAT ), the world's largest chip maker, posted a first quarter loss per share of four cents, vs. a three-cent loss a year ago. Revenue rose slightly to $1.05 billion. Excluding a $99 million charge for layoffs, the company posted breakeven results. Analysts were expecting average earnings per share of two cents. For the second quarter, Applied Materials sees one cents to two cents earnings per share, below estimates of three cents a share.

Prudential Financial (PRU ) posted fourth quarter earnings per share of 43 cents, two cents worse than analysts' average estimates. The insurance and investment services company sees EPS in the range of $2.50 to $2.65 for fiscal 2003.

Interstate Bakeries (IBC ) cut the $1.30 fiscal 2003 earnings per share from operations forecast to 90 cents to 95 cents due to weaker-than-expected branded sales. The company sees a third quarter loss, and a return to profitability in the fourth quarter. S&P reiterates avoid. Merrill cut its estimates.

Dick's Sporting (DKS ) raised the fourth quarter earnings per share guidance to 80 cents to 81 cents vs. the previous guidance of 63 cents to 64 cents. Dick's also posted a 4.9% comp store sales rise, and a 16% total sales rise.

Shares of Scholastic (SCHL ) fell after the publisher of J.K. Rowling's wildly popular "Harry Potter" book series guided to about breakeven for the third quarter. Scholastic cited lower-than-expected revenue in January, the possible impact of budgetary pressures affecting school spending, and other factors. Merrill and CS First Boston downgraded.

MetLife (MET ) posted 47 cents fourth quarter operating earnings per share vs. a 17 cents loss. The current quarter included a 23-cent charge to boost asbestos reserves. S&P reiterates buy, but says it is disappointed by the earnings per share shortfall.

Pacific Growth initiated coverage on software concern WebMethods (WEBM ) with overweight.

Computer hardware and networking products company Ingram Micro (IM ) expects to meet or exceed fourth quarter consensus earnings per share estimates. Ingram says December's sales performance drove fourth quarter revenues to the high end of guidance. Southwest Securities keeps strong buy.

Business-to-business software maker ESpeed (ESPD ) posted 17 cents vs. eight cents fourth quarter earnings per share on a 17% revenue rise, and posted 16 cents vs. 14 cents fourth quarter earnings per share (GAAP). Espeed sees 2003 earnings per share in excess of 80 cents, and sees 18 cents to 19 cents first quarter earnings per share. Putnam Lovell says the guidance is lower than some expected.

Yum! Brands (YUM ) soared after posting 56 cents vs. 54 cents fourth quarter earnings per share on a 12% revenue rise, beating estimates. The global food operator, whose assets include KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, sees first quarter earnings per share of at least 38 cents, and 2003 earnings of at least $2.00. S&P reiterates accumulate. Lehman reiterates overweight.

Blockbuster (BBI ) rose after posting 17 cents fourth quarter earnings per share vs. a three-cent loss on 9.1% higher same store revenue, and 17% higher total revenue. The movie rental company sees at least 20% 2003 earnings per share growth. Gerard Klauer reportedly upgraded to buy from underperform.

Aetna (AET ) climbed after posting 92 cents fourth quarter earnings per share from continuing operations (excluding items) vs. a 59-cent loss despite a 22% revenue drop. Adjusting for items, the insurance giant posted 63 cents earnings per share from continuing operations vs. a $1.38 loss. Analysts had been forecasting an average of 59 cents a share. The insurance giant said a reduction in the medical cost ratio and lower administrative costs helped drive results. S&P reiterates hold.

Salomon SB upgraded U.S. Steel (X ) to outperform from underperform. On Monday the company and the steelworkers union began formal labor contract talks for plants at U.S. Steel and National Steel.

WellPoint Health (WLP ) dropped after saying premium pricing was "sufficient" to cover medical cost trends as evidenced by a relatively flat medical care ratio. The health insurance company posted $1.18 vs. 83 cents fourth quarter earnings per share on stronger-than-expected membership growth. Analysts were expecting earnings per share of $1.15. S&P keeps accumulate.

Leapfrog Enterprises (LF ) posted 50 cents vs. 27 cents fourth quarter earnings per share on a 62% sales rise, and sees a 13-cent to 17-cent first quarter loss, as well as 91 cents to $1.02 2003 earnings per share. The consensus 2003 earnings per share estimate is 94 cents. USB Piper raised its estimates.

Impath's (IMPH ) board appointed Carter Eckert chairman and CEO, replacing Anu Saad, who resigned following a review of expenses submitted by him over the last three years.

Entravision Communications (EVC ) posted six cents vs. two cents fourth quarter free cash flow per share on a 17% revenue rise. Thomas Weisel downgraded to market perform from buy.

Helicopter services company Offshore Logistics (OLOG ) posted 49 cents vs. 45 cents third quarter earnings per share on an 8.7% revenue rise. Baird downgraded to neutral from outperform.

Cablevision (CVC ) says its will close or sell its remaining The Wiz electronic retail stores by the end of the second quarter. The company closed 26 unprofitable Wiz outlets last year, but 17 are still in business. Cablevision says business conditions at these operations eroded due to a weakened retail economy and other factors.

Interpublic Group (IPG ) received a $500 million interim credit facility after lenders agreed to amend the company's credit pacts. Interpublic notes the new terms restrict dividend payments, capital expenses, and additional debt. The advertising company also retained Goldman Sachs to help sell NFO WorldGroup.

SoundView upgraded Nokia (NOK ) to outperform from neutral.

Compudyne (CDCY ) will delay its fourth quarter results as it examines accounting issues related to the acquisition of Tiburon, and the goodwill arising from the deal. Compudyne expects to be nominally profitable in the fourth quarter; it sees 2003 earnings per share in excess of 60 cents.

Macromedia (MACR ) filed a 10-Q for the third quarter; reflecting an adjustment that resulted from its settlement of litigation with RLI Corp. After reflecting this charge, third quarter earnings per share was 14 cents.

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