U.S. Markets closed

Fresh Market rises as analyst gives 'Strong Buy'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Fresh Market climbed more than 5 percent in Wednesday trading as a Raymond James analyst started coverage of the grocery chain with a "Strong Buy" rating, saying a recent drop in stock price provides a good buying opportunity.

THE SPARK: Analyst Benjamin Brownlow said in a client note that Fresh Market Inc.'s growth outlook is solid. The analyst said that the Greensboro, N.C., company has a relatively young store base, with more than 40 percent of its stores less than five years old, and that this normally translates to rapid sales growth. He also believes that long-term demographics and consumer trends favor its differentiated grocery store concept and product offerings.

Fresh Market's stock is down 16 percent for the year to date.

Brownlow gave the company a $50 price target.

THE BIG PICTURE: Earlier this month Fresh Market reported a 13 percent rise in its fiscal fourth-quarter net income as it benefited from a lower tax rate and shoppers bought more items from its food stores. But the results missed analysts' estimates, and it provided a fiscal 2013 earnings forecast below Wall Street's expectations.

THE ANALYSIS: Brownlow said that Fresh Market has a significant opportunity to expand its store base. The analyst said that the stores give off a "neighborhood grocer" feel and take up relative small square footage, but one key is that they are underpenetrated in markets west of the Mississippi River. Brownlow believes that Fresh Market has the potential to eventually quadruple its store base to more than 500 U.S. locations. Over the next five years, the base could climb to more than 250 stores from 129, the analyst said.

Consumers are also starting to buy more high-quality, healthy foods, Brownlow said, which supports Fresh Market's store concept.

SHARE ACTION: Fresh Market's stock rose $2.12, or 5.2 percent, to $42.65 in afternoon trading. The shares have traded in a 52-week range of $36.51 to $65.69.