United Natural Foods Jumps

Triad Hospitals climbs; Merck slips; plus more of today's stocks in the news

United Natural Foods (UNFI ) signed a five-year distribution agreement with Wild Oats Markets (OAT ). The company expects net sales will increase by $50 million in fiscal 2004 and $150 million to $200 million in fiscal 2005. United Natural sees $1.46 to $1.52 fiscal 2004 earnings per share, excluding items, on sales of $1.6 billion to $1.62 billion.

Triad Hospitals (TRI ) sees 47 cents to 49 cents fourth-quarter earnings per share from continuing operations (excluding refinancing costs). Triad sees $2.28 to $2.36 2004 earnings per share from continuing operations on net revenue of $4.3 billion to $4.5 billion.

CS First Boston downgraded drug giant Merck & Co. (MRK ) to underperform from neutral.

Sneaker retailer Foot Locker (FL ) sees better-than-expected 41 cents to 45 cents fourth-quarter earnings per share from continuing operations due to strong sales trends. S&P reiterates accumulate.

MGIC Investment (MTG ) posted $1.05 vs. $1.37 fourth-quarter earnings per share despite an 8.1% total revenue rise. MGIC says the results were negatively impacted by higher paid and incurred losses.

Eon Labs (ELAB ) raised the fourth-quarter guidance to 38 cents to 41 cents earnings per share on sales of $85 million to $90 million, and upped the 2003 guidance to $1.51 to $1.54 on sales of $320 million to $325 million.

Dendreon (DNDN ) says patients with advanced prostate cancer with Gleason Scores of seven and less showed a "significant survival advantage" in a Phase 3 trial of its Provenenge drug. Needham reiterated its strong buy rating.

Countrywide Financial (CFC ) tightened its 2003 earnings per share range to $12.30 to $12.45 (post split), vs. the previous $12 to $13.50 forecast. The company says as anticipated, refinance activity declined during the fourth quarter due to higher mortgage rates. Countrywide reaffirmed the $9 to $12 2004 earnings per share (post split).

Computer Associates (CA ) received a Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission indicating possible civil enforcement against the company for possible violations of laws arising from CA's premature recognition of revenue from software license contracts in the year ending fiscal 2002.

SoundView raised its estimates on Internet portal Yahoo (YHOO ), and upped the $48 target to $56. The broker reiterates its outperform rating.

Walgreen may rise on a positive story in financial journal Barron's. The story highlights the stock's potential upside due to ongoing efforts to spiff up merchandising, improve processes, and expand the store count. AG Edwards' Jack Russo thinks shares could reach $40 within a year.

Rare Hospitality (RARE ) posted 5.3% higher fourth-quarter same store sales for LongHorn Steakhouse, 3.4% higher sales for Bugaboo Creek Steak House, and 12.6% higher sales for Capital Grille. Rare raised the 31 cents to 32 cents fourth-quarter earnings per share guidance to 32 cents to 33 cents, and upped the 2003 estimate of $1.18 to $1.20 to $1.20 to $1.21.

PeopleSoft (PSFT ) set a $200 million stock buyback.

IHOP (IHP ) posted 6% higher fourth-quarter same store sales, and 4.8% higher 2003 same-store sales. The restaurant operator sees $1.65 to $1.75 2004 earnings per share.

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