December 13, 2011 / 12:52 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 2-Lower prices squeeze Pantry's profits, shares fall

* Q4 adj EPS $0.37 vs est $0.55

* Q4 rev $2.18 bln vs est $2.21 bln

* Sees 2012 merchandise sales $1.78-$1.82 bln

* Shares down 13 percent (Adds details on margins, updates shares)

Dec 13 (Reuters) - Pantry Inc’s quarterly results lagged market estimates as lower prices on products such as cigarettes and beverages squeezed margins and its convenience stores drew fewer customers.

Shares of the company were down 13 percent at $10.43 in morning trade on Tuesday. They have lost more than a third of their value this year, which has seen its margins fall and its CEO of two years quit prematurely.

“Cigarette margin, which was down significantly from last year due to competitive pricing pressure, had a 20 basis point impact on our margin,” Chief Financial Officer Mark Bierley said on a conference call.

Pantry, which runs gas stations and convenience stores in southeastern United States and competes with Couche-Tard Inc and Seven Eleven, said merchandise gross margin fell to 33.8 percent from 34.4 percent a year ago.

Earlier this year Couche-Tard had said its margins in the United States were improving even as its Canadian business was under pressure from pharmacies and departmental stores.

Pantry’s beverage margins were down 40 basis points, hurt by higher promotions as it pushes its Bean Street Coffee offering, its CFO said.

For the fourth quarter, the company said comparable store merchandise revenue fell 0.8 percent.

“My most immediate focus has been on gaining a better understanding of our declining comparable store sales performance, especially in fueling...,” interim Chief Executive Edwin Holman said in a statement.

Holman took over as the interim chief after Terrance Marks stepped down in August, bringing his near two-year tenure at the helm to a premature end.

Holman also said that the company will modify its pricing strategy to improve merchandise and fuel sales growth in 2012.

The company posted fourth-quarter profit of $3.3 million, or 15 cents a share, compared with $8.5 million, or 38 cents a share, in the prior-year quarter.

Excluding items, it earned 37 cents a share.

Revenue rose about 12 percent to $2.18 billion.

Analysts, on average, had expected it to earn 55 cents a share, on revenue of $2.21 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

For fiscal 2012, the company expects merchandise sales of $1.78-$1.82 billion. (Reporting by Ranjita Ganesan and Meenakshi Iyer; Editing by Esha Dey, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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