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Bed Bath & Beyond's outlook sends stock plunging

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[June 22, 2012]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Bed Bath & Beyond's shares tumbled a day after the home goods seller forecast weaker earnings than Wall Street expected as concern spread about the company's health in view of the wobbling economy.

The chain gave the disappointing outlook even as it announced better-than-expected first-quarter results. It told investors it was being forced to use more coupons to get people to shop, and that was hurting its profitability.

Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. also faces growing competition from discounters and online, where it has made only a limited foray. Canaccord Genuity retail analyst Laura Champine said in April that the retailer's market share had fallen during the fourth quarter for the first time this decade. And she estimated the company was generating less than 2 percent of its sales online.

Meanwhile, Bed Bath & Beyond also is coping with expenses from recent acquisitions.

In May, it announced it is acquiring competitor Cost Plus Inc. Cost Plus, which is based in , based in Oakland, Calif., sells home furnishings, accessories, food and wine through World Market and Cost Plus World Market stores. Bed Bath & Beyond already runs more than 1,000 stores under its own name and the Christmas Tree Shops, buybuy Baby, Harmon and Home & More banners. This month, Bed Bath & Beyond said it is buying textile seller Linen Holdings LLC.

A slowing economy could stymie the company's efforts to generate more traffic and compete against online merchants. Recent reports on hiring and first-time applications for unemployment benefits indicate layoffs are continuing and hiring is not increasing. And the National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of previously occupied homes dropped 1.5 percent in May from April.

"Bed Bath & Beyond has had a great run. But the question is whether the great growth pace is now running out of gas," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. "Where does it go at a time when consumer demand is beginning to soften?"

He said the company is particularly vulnerable as retailing shifts to the Internet.

"Bed Bath & Beyond has always been bricks-centric," Johnson said.

Overall, online sales rose twice as fast last year as sales did in physical stores, according to government statistics.

Johnson also said Wal-Mart stores could pull sales from Bed Bath & Beyond.

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The Union, N.J.-based retailer did report better earnings than analysts expected for the quarter that ended May 26: $206.8 million, or 89 cents per share, compared with an average forecast from analysts for 84 cents per share, according to FactSet. But its revenue of $2.22 billion, up 5 percent from a year earlier, fell below Wall Street predictions of $2.24 billion.

The modest 3 percent increase in revenue at stores open at least a year was a sharp slowdown from the fourth quarter, when the figure rose 6.8 percent. The comparison is an important measure of retailers' fiscal health because it isn't skewed by recently store openings and closings.

For the current quarter, Bed Bath & Beyond expects to earn 97 cents to $1.03 per share, while analysts were looking for $1.08 per share.

CEO Steven Temares told investors during a conference call that the economy won't affect Bed Bath & Beyond's fundamental strategy of offering low prices and good customer service.

"As always, we will continue to invest in all aspects of our company and work to enhance our customer's overall experience in store, online and through mobile devices and social media," Temares said Wednesday.

The shares fell $12.50 Thursday, almost 17 percent, and closed at $61.17, making Bed Bath and Beyond the biggest decliner in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

The shares have been trading between $48.75 and $75.84 over the past year, though they fell as low as $17 in late 2008.

[Associated Press; By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO]

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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