Like the famous Steve Bartman foul ball, a miss at Wrigley (NYSE:WWY) is not a pretty sight. That's right, the gum maker missed its fourth-quarter numbers, seriously botching a decent fielding percentage.

This is a miss that stings. The company earned just $0.49 a share in the fourth quarter. And because the company's 2003 results were juiced by a weaker dollar overseas, this is worse than just failing to clear the $0.53 a share bar set by Wall Street.

In fact, while the company can point to higher earnings for the year as a whole -- from $1.78 to $1.98 per share -- a full 14 of those pennies (or two-thirds of that growth) came from favorable currency translations.

There is some comfort in knowing that Wrigley's was able to grow its sales past the $3 billion mark in 2003, but this doesn't look good. Perhaps that's why the company is out to appease its investors by hiking its dividend and announcing a share buyback, even as it has plenty of room to go on its existing repurchase plan.

Gum and candy may rot your teeth but buying into the stocks has usually been fortifying. Hershey (NYSE:HSY), Tootsie Roll (NYSE:TR), and Wrigley all inched higher over the past year. Yet one of the biggest lures to the sector was the recession-resistant nature of penny candy and the steady bottom-line growth.

Wrigley may explain away the shortcoming, alluding to spikes in marketing costs and geographic expansion, but a miss is still a miss. It gives shareholders something to chew on, but like a stick of Wrigley's, it's a tough one to swallow.

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