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Shares of Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFMI) surged in trading on Thursday following news that it will acquire smaller rival Wild Oats Markets Inc. (OATS), which also saw its stock surge.

The move boosts Whole Food’s store base as it continues to face competition from larger conventional supermarkets and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) in the organic and natural foods business.

Whole Foods, which has also been plagued by slow same-store sales and pricing competition, has seen its shares fall from a 52-week high of $74 in May 2006.

The stock plunged nearly $20 in early November following the retailer’s fourth quarter results.

But they appear to be in the midst of a serious recovery, at least for now.

After markets closed on Wednesday, Whole Food’s also unveiled first quarter results that fell short of already low expectations from Goldman Sachs analyst Simeon Gutman.

However, he maintained his “neutral” rating on the stock and $59.86 price target, which represents upside of more than 30% from its closing price of $45.70 yesterday.

The Wild Oats merger provides the company with immediate square footage growth and eliminates a competitor, Mr. Gutman said in a research note.

WFMI 1-yr chart:

WFMI 1-yr chart

Source: Whole Foods Surges On Wild Oats Acquisition: More Upside To Follow?