Now that the waning low-carb craze means "bread" is no longer a four-letter word to many weight watchers, it makes sense that many investors have been keeping their eyes on stocks that might have suffered in the interim. Case in point: PaneraBread (NASDAQ:PNRA), which sliced up some hearty earnings today.

Fourth-quarter profit at Panera increased 35% to $14 million, or $0.45 per share. Sales also increased 35%, to $130.1 million. Same-store sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 19 increased 7.5% to 8.5%. For anyone looking to get an idea of Panera's free cash flow generation, though, the cash flow statement was not included in the earnings release. Investors will have to wait for the company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company also plans to make some changes to its lease accounting, although it said that any changes shouldn't be material to its income statement or balance sheet for 2002, 2003, or 2004. However, Panera said the impact through fiscal 2004 resulting from corrections in its lease accounting practices could result in a net increase in expense ranging from $100,000 to $4 million, which if recorded entirely in 2004 would lower its preliminary earnings by as much as $0.08 per share.

Panera also increased its full-year view, saying that it expects to report earnings of $1.52 to $1.57 per share, with expected same-store sales growth of 2% to 4%.

That's a far cry from last year, when Panera got pounded for a lackluster outlook, which likely had a lot to do with one of the big investing stories of 2004, the low-carb bear market. Of course, given last year's tough environment, it added up to easy comparisons for Panera this time around.

Now that most people are back on bread, is it time for investors to jump back on the Panera bandwagon? I don't think so. Others have already foreseen that any stumbling by Panera last year would probably add up to a better year this time around. Fad diets always come and go, and investors with cool heads likely snapped up shares with the idea that better days were to come.

And so, the time for Panera at a discount has also come and gone. Investors bid shares up in this morning's trading, and the stock is trading at 35 times its forward earnings estimate. That sounds a little too euphoric, considering the 22% to 26% earnings growth that's currently anticipated at Panera.

While its results seem solid, it hardly seems worth the premium afforded to high-growth, superstar-branded performers like Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX). Starbucks might well be considered a competitor, as well as coffee-and-sandwich stopCosi (NASDAQ:COSI) and any number of fast-food joints. For now, investors may want to pass on Panera Bread.

Are you still a low-carb dieter? Visit our discussion board, Low Carb Way of Life.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, although over the weekend, she did stop at a Panera Bread store for lunch.