• PizzaExpress stock drops after broker downgrade

LONDON -- Shares of PizzaExpress PLC dropped sharply in trading on April 19 after broker Numis Securities downgraded the stock.

According to Stockwatch, Numis moved the London-based pizza chain to "sell" from "add", and dropped its price target to 600 pence from 875.

The broker also cut 2002 pretax profit forecasts to 42 mln stg from 45 mln in 2002, and to 48 mln stg from 55 mln in 2003.

These expectations are well below the consensus of brokers, which suggest profits at 45.3 mln stg and 53.2 mln this year and next.

Numis blamed the changes on the continued decline in comparable store sales at PizzaExpress's central London outlets. The broker was concerned about the ongoing post-9/11 tourism decline in England and its effect on the chain's numbers.

Pizza and pasta chain, ASK Central PLC, was recommended as an alternative by Numis. The broker views the chain as less subject to tourism-related declines.

In late-day trading, PizzaExpress shares were down 67.5 pence to 717.5. ASK Central, meanwhile, was up 1.5 to 188.5.

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