Mmmmmm, doughnuts. Krispy Kreme(NYSE: KKD), the company that can make anyone feel a little like Homer Simpson, reported fourth-quarter results this morning. While its earnings were slightly ahead of expectations, shares are off today more than 6% on disappointing sales growth.

Systemwide sales, which include both company-owned and franchised stores, rose 25.9% to $213.3 million for the quarter ended Feb. 2. Same-store sales rose an expected 11.7%.

The market's gotten used to seeing faster systemwide-sales growth from Krispy Kreme, which has returned 26% growth for two quarters now, instead of the 30%-plus it achieved in the past. The company expects higher sales-growth rates this year, and blamed recent-quarter's sales on "extraordinary weather patterns." With a company like Krispy Kreme, always trading at a premium, perfection is required.

Earnings were deflated by an already-announced $9.1 million charge to settle a legal dispute with a franchisee. Minus the charge, it earned $11.3 million, or $0.19 a share, compared to $8.3 million, or $0.14. Analysts were looking for $0.18 per share on this basis.

The company has no plans to slow its expansion, and will open 77 new stores in 17 new markets for fiscal 2004. It added 63 new stores in fiscal 2003. Krispy Kreme also said it will open 10 satellite or doughnut and coffee shop combos in the new fiscal year.

It's financing this growth largely through new long-term debt, which is something to keep an eye on. At the close of the third quarter, Krispy Kreme had substantially more total debt than cash. It didn't release a balance sheet or cash-flow statement today, but that'll be something to look at when it files its 10-K.

Even with shares dropping a bit today, Krispy Kreme's still trading at a forward P/E of 37, with expected earnings growth for the coming fiscal year of 33%, leaving bargain hunters hungry.