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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bloomberg.com: Worldwide

July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Costco Wholesale Corp., the largest U.S. warehouse-club chain, fell the most in more than three years in Nasdaq trading after saying fourth-quarter earnings would be ``well below'' analysts' estimates because of energy costs.

Costco kept prices lower than planned to retain customers, Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said today in a statement. The Issaquah, Washington-based company also said it will repurchase an extra $1 billion of its stock.

Record fuel and soaring food costs prompted U.S. consumers to trim spending and make fewer trips to stores. The gasoline unit will suffer a ``negative swing'' in profit, Galanti said. Costco's expenses increased, and fuel profit margin likely narrowed as it tried to lure people with lower prices.

Fourth-quarter per-share earnings are expected to miss the $1.00 consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by First Call, Costco said in today's statement. The average estimate of 21 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for fourth-quarter adjusted earnings per share of $0.998.

Costco fell $5.93, or 8.2 percent, to $66.07 at 10:38 a.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading, the biggest one-day decline since April 2005. Earlier, it dropped 13 percent to $62.31. The company runs 537 warehouses, with 393 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

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Bloomberg.com: Latin America

July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Dolly was poised to make landfall in southern Texas today, where residents of Brownsville braced for the border town's first direct hit by a hurricane in almost a decade.

``Tree branches are down, and a lot of streetlights are out,'' said Sokie Gonzales, 55, a lifelong resident and a manager of Brownsville's Super 8 motel. ``We've gathered flashlights and backed up the computers. Now we wait.''

Dolly packed sustained winds of 100 miles per hour and was about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Brownsville at 10 a.m. local time, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The storm reached Category 2 status, meaning winds of 96 to 110 mph, the center said.

Dolly is the season's first hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, home to more than a quarter of U.S. oil production. The storm has steered south of most rigs, which are off the East Texas and Louisiana shores.

A hurricane warning stretches for about 300 miles along the U.S. and Mexican coasts, from Corpus Christi, Texas, southward to Rio San Fernando, Mexico. Dolly may make landfall by noon in Brownsville, home to 172,000 people.

Across the Mexican border, guests at the Hotel Colonial in historic Matamoros checked out last night, said Jose Luis Monjaras, a worker at the hotel. The hotel had yet to stack sandbags or board up windows.

``This isn't going to be a Category 4, so we aren't that worried,'' he said. ``Still, the flooding could be pretty bad.''

Rain, Storm Surge

Dolly may dump 6 to 10 inches (15-25 centimeters) of rain on South Texas and northeastern Mexico during the next few days, forecasters at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

As much as 15 inches may fall in some areas. A coastal storm surge of 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) above normal is predicted near and north of the point of landfall.

``Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,'' the center said.

Texas Governor Rick Perry activated 1,200 National Guard personnel and a half-dozen Black Hawk helicopters, which can deliver emergency supplies.

The state will order coastal evacuations if Dolly strengthens to a Category 3 storm, meaning winds of at least 111 miles per hour.

Memories of Bret

The last powerful storm to follow Dolly's path was Hurricane Bret, a Category 3, in 1999, according to meteorologist Jeff Masters of the WeatherUnderground.com Web site.

``Wind damage is the primary threat from Dolly, along with flash flooding from heavy rains,'' Masters wrote on his blog. ``Hurricane Bret spawned two damaging tornadoes in the region in 1999, and we can expect Dolly to spawn a few tornadoes as well. I expect considerable wind damage from Dolly, exceeding $100 million.''

The southern tip of Texas is fortunate in that it lacks much commercial development on the coast, which is largely occupied by Padre Island National Seashore, Masters said. Both Brownsville and Matamoros sit about 20 miles inland, far enough to avoid the storm surge, Masters said.

Damage from Brett was about $60 million, mostly in small towns near the national seashore, he said.

Energy companies yesterday evacuated some oil rigs as a precaution and cut production in the Gulf by 4.7 percent, according to the U.S. Interior Department.

The forecast for Dolly to miss the rigs contributed to a decline in the price of oil. Crude oil for September delivery fell $2.45, or 1.9 percent, to $125.97 a barrel at 10:41 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Companies that carried out evacuations include BP Plc, Noble Corp., Chevron Corp., Devon Energy Corp., Citgo Petroleum Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

To contact the reporter on this story: Demian McLean in Washington at dmclean8@bloomberg.net.

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