Earnings Warnings Rise Ahead of Season

America's biggest toy retailer has joined the legion of companies warning quarterly results will be worse than expected, citing the impact of last month's attacks on an already weak economy. 

Toys R Us Inc. headed a range of companies from Rent-A-Center Inc., an operator of rent-to-own appliance stores, to software maker Commerce One Inc., that warned in the last day that earnings will fall short of forecasts. 

Profits were already expected to be hurt by the slowing economy, but the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the heart of U.S. military might have sent shock waves that are still reverberating. 

``The magnitude of warnings is such that we have written off the third quarter,'' said Gregg Summerville, a money manager with Columbus, Ind.Kirr, Marbach & Co. which oversees $500 million in assets, including Toys R Us stock. 

Toys R Us Inc. said it now expects a loss of about 22 cents per share for the third quarter ending Nov. 3, more than double the consensus expectation for a loss of 10 cents per share before the attacks. 

It also said its full-year earnings would tend toward the low end of the current range of analysts' estimates, which run from a profit of 95 cents to $1.19 per share, according to research firm Thomson Financial/First Call. 

``Given what happened to mall traffic after Sept. 11'' this is not unexpected, Summerville said. 

Rent-A-Center said on Monday it expects to report third-quarter earnings below previous guidance, citing a slowdown in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Hawk Corp., which makes everything from material used in brakes to components used in lawns and garden equipment, said on Tuesday it expects to post a wider third-quarter loss due to weak sales. The company is cutting management salaries and reviewing spending in a bid to lower costs. 

Commerce One Inc., which makes online exchange software that brings together buyers and suppliers over the Web, cited poor economic conditions and slowing sales cycles for its profit warning. 

Other companies to guide investor expectations lower for the quarter include: chemicals producer ChemFirst Inc. SilverStream Software Inc., Haverty Furniture Cos. Inc., capital equipment maker Terex Corp., and Longs Drug Stores Corp., which operates 428 stores. 


With less than a week to go before companies begin to post quarterly results, some 726 U.S. companies have warned that profits won't meet expectations -- almost matching the number of warnings last quarter. 

Some 1,164 companies had made pre-announcements for the third quarter by Tuesday morning, 62 percent of which warned they are unlikely to meet prior guidance. A total of 305 companies warned of disappointing earnings after Sept. 11, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. 

While the number of warnings is still 11 percent less than the same time in the first quarter, it's just 1 percent less than the same time in the second quarter, according to First Call. 

Wall Street analysts, following the Sept. 11 attacks, have sharply reduced projections for third-quarter earnings of the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 to a decline of 21.9 percent, the worst period since the second quarter of 1991, when earnings declined by 24.2 percent. 

Before last month's attacks, analysts expected earnings to drop 14.7 percent. Wall Street analysts now expect profits for S&P 500 companies to shrink by 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter and to grow 0.2 percent in the first quarter next year. 

Analysts are expected to cut estimates further in coming days and say that profits in the fourth quarter will shrink close to 20 percent and that the first quarter will become the fifth down quarter in a row, Thomson Financial says. 

That would mark the first time five consecutive periods have shrunk since the period beginning with the last quarter of 1969 and culminating with the end of 1970. 


But it was not all bad news as earnings begin to trickle in even as the warnings mount. 

Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. , the largest bottler of PepsiCo drinks such as Aquafina and Mountain Dew Code Red on Tuesday posted third-quarter net income of 96 cents a share, beating its previous guidance of 93 cents to 95 cents a share for the quarter. 

First Data Corp., which provides the electronic networks used for most credit card purchases in the United States, on Monday posted third-quarter operating profits of 69 cents a share, beating the average estimates of analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call by 3 cents. 

Some 38 S&P 500 companies, including Pepsi Bottling Group, First Data Corp. and Host Marriott Corp. have reported earnings so far, with 20 beating estimates, 15 matching, and three missing, according to Thomson Financial /First Call.