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Earnings Preview: Safeway 4th-quarter results

NEW YORK (AP) -- Safeway Inc.'s fourth-quarter results should indicate if its much-touted loyalty program for shoppers is paying off. Analysts expect the grocery store chain to report higher net income and revenue after the bell on Thursday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Pleasanton, Calif.-based company, which operates Safeway, Vons, Dominick's and other chains, said last quarter that costs related to the new program, called "Just for U," weighed on profitability. But it also said that the program was boosting market share and sales.

Safeway started the program to fend off big-box retailers and other competitors that are expanding their grocery aisles. In addition to competition from retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, traditional supermarkets are competing more with drugstore chains and dollar stores.

Fourth-quarter results should give more indications of whether the program is working or not.

Analysts will also be looking for an update on the company's search for a successor to Steve Burd, its longtime CEO, who is retiring in May.

WHY IT MATTERS: Safeway, which runs 1,644 grocery stores in the U.S. and western Canada, and other supermarket chains are fighting to hold onto shoppers in an increasingly competitive market.

WHAT'S EXPECTED: Analysts expect earnings of 76 cents per share on revenue of $13.71 billion, according to FactSet.

LAST YEAR'S QUARTER: The company earned $215.6 million, or 67 cents per share, on revenue of $13.6 billion.