(PNRA) Panera Bread’s COO Steps Down

Panera Bread Co. (PNRA) has recently announced that effective May 31, 2012, John Maguire will no longer serve as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the company. Maguire resigned from his current position in Panera to join Friendly’s Ice Cream LLC as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Concurrently, Panera has appointed Charles J. Chapman III, as the new COO. Charles, who currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Development and Business Development & Licensing of the company, was first drafted in the company’s board of directors in January 2008. Last year, he resigned from his position of COO in International Dairy Queen to join the company’s management team.

Chapman has also served as the COO of Bruegger’s Bagels and has held positions at Darden Restaurants Inc. (DRI). With experience of 20 years in the restaurant industry, we remain optimistic on his appointment.

The restaurant chain is witnessing significant management changes. Earlier in March 2012, Panera’s former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jeff Kip left the company to join IAC/InterActiveCorp. (IACI), a company engaged in the Internet business in the United States and internationally. At present, Thomas Patrick Kelly is serving as interim CFO of the company; Panera is still on the lookout for a permanent CFO.

Last month, Panera also realigned its top management structure with the appointment of two co-chief executives, founder and Chairman Ron Shaich and Bill Moreton, who previously served as the sole CEO.

As a point of reference, one of the company’s peers, McDonald’s Corporation (MCD) recently announced the retirement of present Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jim Skinner. Effective July 1, 2012, the current Chief Operating Officer (COO) Thompson will serve as the CEO of McDonald’s and subsequently Tim Fenton the President of McDonald’s Asia, Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) will hold the office of COO.

The company is slated to release its first quarter 2012 earnings on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. The current Zacks Consensus Estimate for the first quarter stands at $1.34, higher than the prior-year earnings of $1.09. Currently, the Zacks Consensus Estimate ranges between $1.38 and $1.32 per share.

Panera expects first quarter 2012 earnings in the range of $1.33 to $1.35 per share and company-owned comparable net bakery-cafe sales growth of 7.0% to 7.5%.

Panera, currently retains a Zacks #2 Rank, which translates into a short-term Buy rating. We are maintaining our long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock.

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