• Papa John's Pizza predicting another tough year in 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Papa John's International expects 2005 to look a great deal like 2004: holding its ground to eke out a profit in the extremely challenging pizza segment.

According to a news release, the No. 3 pizza chain expects 2005 domestic comparable-store sales to range from flat to plus-2 percent.

It expects to open about 90 domestic units while closing a similar number. Through 2009, approximately 375 units are contracted for opening in the U.S.

On the international front, the company plans to open about 80 units and close nearly half that number in '05. Overseas revenues are expected to increase, however.

Top-line earnings-per-share for 2005 are projected to be in the $2.17 to $2.21 range, but the cost of its BIBP cheese price management program is expected to shave off 82 cents per share. Ending EPS for next year, therefore, should range between $1.35 and $1.39.

Founder and CEO John Schnatter told The Courier-Journal newspaper on Dec. 15 that he may step out of the leadership role if he can't revive the company's sales and growth by about next April. Schnatter has been in the CEO's spot since Blaine Hurst vacated the seat more than four years ago, and Papa John's has produced only marginal profits under his watch.

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