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Whole Foods Market's (Nasdaq: WFMI ) third-quarter results looked savory, especially amid the struggles of the overall grocery industry. However, some investors seemed to perceive a bitter aftertaste, given Whole Foods' share price plunge today.
Whole Foods' second-quarter net income increased 88% to $65.7 million, or $0.38 per share. Revenue surged 15% to $2.2 billion. Same-store sales increased an impressive 8.4%.
Apparently, some investors flipped out because Whole Foods ratcheted down its sales outlook. The organic grocer now expects 11.7% to 11.9% sales growth in fiscal 2010, and 10% to 13% sales growth in fiscal 2011. In the company's press release, Walter Robb, John Mackey's co-CEO, said the change reflects "a tempering of our enthusiasm over current sales growth trends with conservatism due to the competitive environment and the economy."
If you check yesterday's headlines, you'll see that consumer confidence is pretty abysmal. And of course, you'd have to be hiding under a rock to ignore our continued high unemployment and other economic headwinds. Even affluent consumers are watching their wallets.
Grocers will have to compete very nimbly to woo these newly frugal and price-conscious American consumers. And even on our economy's best days, grocers face formidable competition in the space from price-slashing rivals such as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) and Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) .
However, given Whole Foods' tumbling share price today, investors might want to take a contrarian turn and snap up these shares at a discount. Double-digit percentage sales growth is an impressive feat in this retail space, to say nothing of the $65.2 million in free cash flow Whole Foods reported.
Last month, I examined grocery stocks such as Safeway (NYSE: SWY ) , Kroger (NYSE: KR ) , SUPERVALU (NYSE: SVU ) , and Weis Markets (NYSE: WMK ) . Despite the relative premium placed on Whole Foods' share price, I deemed the company one of the few winners in an overall lackluster retail subsector. SUPERVALU and Safeway both recently reported that their quarterly profits dropped by 40%, in yet another sign of grocers' industrywide malaise.
The economy will remain rough and rocky for some time to come. Investors should search for companies with the wherewithal to withstand the headwinds. Whole Foods' tasty earnings suggest that it might be one of the winners.