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Kroger Profit Rose 54% In Q4, 6th Straight Qtr Of Acceleration

Kroger rang up another quarter of accelerating earnings growth and gave a strong outlook, sending the grocery giant's shares to a multiyear high Thursday.

The operator of the Ralphs and Food 4 Less chains' adjusted Q4 earnings rose 54% to 77 cents a share excluding items. That was the sixth straight quarter of faster year-over-year growth and 7 cents above analyst forecasts.

Kroger (KR) rose 3% to 30.26 in the stock market Thursday, extending a strong uptrend from the summer. Shares hit 30.62 early, the highest since August 2008.

The nation's largest traditional grocery store chain with more than 2,400 supermarkets in 31 states logged Q4 revenue of $24.2 billion, including fuel. The 13% gain, in line with views, was the fastest growth in several years.

Same-store sales climbed 3%, excluding fuel.

Kroger said business remains solid despite the payroll tax hike and higher gasoline prices. The grocer guided full-year EPS to $2.71 to $2.79 vs. views for $2.64.

Other traditional grocers that have hit multiyear highs this month include Safeway (SWY), Harris Teeter (HTSI) and Ingles Markets (IMKTA).

Safeway gave bullish guidance Wednesday after shares surged Feb. 21 on Q4 results. The stock fell 2 cents to 23.92 Thursday.

But specialty and organic grocery chains have headed south.

Fresh Market (TFM) dived 10% to a 52-week low Wednesday after missing Q4 earnings and issued a weak 2013 outlook.

The specialty grocer has fallen by more than one-third since Nov. 23 amid worries about its ability to hit profit and margin targets as it aggressively expands. Shares did rise 2% Thursday.

Similar worries have dogged Whole Foods Market (WFM). It edged up Thursday but is off 11% since its Feb. 13 earnings report.