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Webvan tops 1Q forecasts by a penny

Webvan Group (Nasdaq: WBVN) edged past the consensus expectation in the first quarter.

After market close Thursday, the online grocer reported a first quarter pro forma net loss of $38.7 million, or 12 cents per share, excluding non-cash charges. First Call's survey of 10 analysts predicted a loss of 13 cents per share.

Including amortization related to stock compensation, Webvan lost $57.8 million, or 18 cents per share.

First quarter revenue of $16.3 million represented a 79 percent improvement from $9.1 million in the fourth quarter, when Webvan lost $25.7 million, or 9 cents per share. Gross margin rose to 25.4 percent in the first quarter from 18.6 percent previously.

The company boosted active customer accounts to 87,000, up 85 percent from 47,000 at the end of December. Average order size rose 11 percent to $90.33 from $81.31 in the fourth quarter.

Webvan now foresees revenue ranging between $150 million to $160 million in fiscal 2000, up slightly from previous expectations of about $150 million, CFO Robert Swan said during a Thursday afternoon conference call with analysts.

"We feel great about the progress we've made on each of the financial and operating metrics," Swan said.

Second quarter gross margin will fall .05 to .1 percent sequentially as Webvan's Atlanta distribution center goes into full operation, Swan said. The company expects the Atlanta facility, currently handling 200 orders a day in a pilot program, to be delivering 7 days a week by May.

For the full year, Webvan estimates overall gross margin at 27 percent.

Swan predicted a loss of about 17 cents per share for the second quarter, and a loss of 72 cents per share for the full 2000.

March quarter results were better than the expectations of Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget, who predicted $12.5 million in revenue and 75,000 customers, though he believed Webvan would exceed that figures. Blodget was looking for gross margin of 21 percent.

However, Blodget remained cautious about Webvan's stock, which has lost more than 75 percent of its value since peaking in early December. "We still do not see any catalysts to lift WBVN's stock over the near-term," Blodget wrote this week.

Shares of Webvan closed Thursday's regular trading at 6 5/16, up 13/16 for the session. Online grocery stocks have generally suffered over the last few months, including HomeGrocer (Nasdaq: HOMG), (Nasdaq: SNLE) and troubled Peapod (Nasdaq: PPOD).

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