As Wendy's International reported a decline in its first-quarter profit, in part because of a now-discredited claim that a customer found...

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As Wendy’s International reported a decline in its first-quarter profit, in part because of a now-discredited claim that a customer found a finger in a bowl of chili, company officials said yesterday that they think the worst is over.

“We’re starting to climb back,” Chairman and Chief Executive Jack Schuessler told analysts on a conference call.

Schuessler said fallout largely affected the store in San Jose, Calif., where the claim was reported, and other restaurants in that part of California. Authorities now say the claim was a hoax and have charged the woman who made it.

Wendy’s said first-quarter earnings fell 2.8 percent for the quarter that ended April 3 to $51.3 million, or 45 cents per share, from $52.8 million, or 45 cents per share, a year ago. The company also blamed bad weather in parts of the country and higher beef prices.

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Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for a profit of 40 cents per share.

Wendy’s shares rose $1.43 to $42.70 yesterday, which have been as low as $31.74 in the past year.

Comcast

Premium customers give company a boost

Comcast said yesterday its profit nearly quintupled in the first quarter, as hundreds of thousands of customers signed up for its premium cable and Internet services.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable-television company, earned $313 million, or 14 cents a share, compared with $65 million, or 3 cents a share, in the first quarter of 2004. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had predicted earnings of 11 cents a share.

The cable operator reported first-quarter revenues of $5.36 billion, up from $4.91 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Comcast lost 29,000 cable customers overall in the first quarter, but added to revenues by gaining 200,000 subscribers to its digital service, which is more expensive than older forms of cable.

The company’s shares declined 4 cents to close at $31.88 yesterday. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of $26.25 to $34.50.

Analyst Craig Moffett of Bernstein said investors will be disappointed by the net loss of cable subscribers.

“While financially the difference between a 30,000 sub (subscription) gain and a 30,000 sub loss is trivial, for better or worse, the basic sub additions are viewed as a litmus test for the competitive health of the business,” he said.

Exxon Mobil

Wall St. unimpressed by 44% surge in profit

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded energy company, reported that first-quarter profit surged 44 percent as high prices for oil and natural gas more than offset declining production.

Exxon said it earned $7.86 billion, or $1.22 per share, up from $5.44 billion, or 83 cents per share, a year earlier. However, excluding a $460 million gain on the sale of Exxon’s stake in China Petroleum and Chemical, operating income was $1.15 per share.

But analysts had forecast operating profit of $1.20 per share, according to Thomson Financial. Some analysts said they had set the bar too high after Exxon’s extraordinary fourth quarter. Shares of Exxon, one of the 30 Dow industrials, paid the price for missing the first-quarter target. They fell $2.38, or 4.1 percent, to close at $56 yesterday.

Compiled from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News