Safeway Shares Plunged: What You Need to Know

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Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Cleanup on aisle four! Shares of grocer Safeway (NYSE: SWY  ) are down 11% today following the company releasing its fourth-quarter earnings results.

So what: For investors looking to milk slow-and-steady profits from a stock not often known for large movements, their plans are being spoiled today. For the quarter, Safeway actually topped EPS expectations of $0.65 by reporting a profit of $0.67 on a 6% rise in sales. Unfortunately, rising gas prices and fickle consumer spending habits continued to crush margins.

Now what: What might seem like a bullish beat needs to be taken into context. Safeway aggressively repurchased its own shares last year, which has the effect of boosting EPS since there are fewer shares outstanding to compare profits against. A 19% jump in average fuel-per-gallon pricing compounded with penny-pinching consumers is probably going to drive Safeway to lower its fiscal 2012 growth outlook when it issues guidance in about two weeks. I happen to like grocers in general, but I'm alarmed at how quickly fuel costs are hurting their customer base. I'd probably be more than content to wait on the sidelines until we see exactly what Safeway anticipates for fiscal 2012.

Craving more input? Start by adding Safeway to your free and personalized watchlist so you can keep up on the latest news with the company.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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