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The Associated Press May 3, 2012, 3:21PM ET

Whole Foods shares up on strong quarter, outlook

Whole Foods Market Inc.'s shares hit fresh trading highs Thursday after the natural and organic grocery chain reported another strong quarter and raised its full-year outlook.

THE SPARK: Whole Foods reported after the market closed Thursday that its profit jumped nearly 31 percent on stronger sales to beat market expectations. The company raised its full-year outlook. It now expects to earn $2.44 to $2.47 per share for the year, which is above the $2.34 that analysts polled by FactSet had anticipated.

THE BIG PICTURE: The company, based in Austin, Texas, is an industry standout. It was hard-hit by the recession but quickly retooled by cutting debt, closing stores, increasing its emphasis on lower-priced options and returning its focus to healthful food. Those moves continue to pay off for the chain.

THE ANALYSIS: Analysts widely agreed it was another solid quarter of sales gains and smart financial management by Whole Foods.

Standard & Poor's Capital IQ analyst Joseph Agnese said the company's key sales trends are the best in the industry. The company has benefited from its popularity among consumers along with smart purchasing and the benefit of less debt. It also has seen some of the rising costs of food that hit the industry over the past few years moderate. He reiterated a "Buy" rating.

SHARE ACTION: Shares of Whole Foods jumped $6.22, or 7.4 percent, to $90.53 in afternoon trading after risimng to an all-time high of $90.71 earlier in the session.

Whole Foods stock price has climbed steadily since 2010 after it began to see some of its recession-period changes take hold.

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