Shares of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store were down more than 6 percent at one point in Thursday trading after the company reported fiscal first-quarter adjusted earnings that beat analysts' estimates but said its Q2 would be worse than expected.
Lebanon-based Cracker Barrel, which recently won a second bitter proxy contest with investor Sardar Biglari, said it earned $23.1 million in the three months ended Nov. 2, which was down 3 percent from a year ago. Adjusting for almost $4 million in pre-tax spending on the Biglari battle and severance costs related to a reorganized field team, profits came in at $25.8 million, or $1.08 per share. That was a penny better than analysts had expected but only about 2 percent higher than adjusted year-ago profits.
Same-store restaurant sales for the quarter climbed 3.3 percent while retail sales rose 1.6 percent. President and CEO Sandy Cochran told analysts and investors on a conference call that the quarter was "a solid start" to the fiscal year and that Thanksgiving was the biggest-ever sales day in the company's history.
Investors, however, appeared to focus on the company's Q2 forecast. Cochran and CFO Larry Hyatt said they expect to earn between $1.22 and $1.27 per share in their second fiscal quarter, while the Street had been looking for $1.28 per share. At about 12:50 p.m., shares of Cracker Barrel (Ticker: CBRL) were down 4 percent to $62.47, with volume on pace to triple the name's daily average. Year to date, Cracker Barrel is up 23 percent.
Cochran and her team are sticking with their full-year guidance of $4.50 to $4.70 per share, which gave rise to a number of probing questions from analysts on the conference call. Several of the researchers pointed out that Cracker Barrel will run up against some strong sales comparisons later this fiscal year and that its plans to introduce more value-priced items could cut into overall volumes.
In response, Cochran and Hyatt said they were confident that a combination of modest price increases, investments in efficiency in the areas of staffing and food preparation, and more traffic from their marketing campaign will let Cracker Barrel hit its number. Another factor that will help: Hyatt said several of the stores the company had planned to build in the Mid-Atlantic area this fiscal year will not open until fiscal 2014 because of permitting delays.