AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market here saw its stock price plunge about 12.6% yesterday after the natural and organic retailer reported weak third-quarter sales and earnings results at the end of the day on Tuesday. The stock price closed yesterday at $20.04, a new 52-week low. The shares, formerly one of the highest-flying issues in food retailing, are off about 50% for the year. On Tuesday the company reported its worst comparable-store sales gains in its 28-year history — up 2.6% — and predicted comp sales for the fourth quarter would only rise about 1.5%. It also eliminated its dividend, reduced spending and cut its store-development plans in half. “The company’s near-term growth prospects have decreased,” Meredith Adler, an analyst with Lehman Brothers, New York, wrote in a report.
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