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Fred’s: Foul weather dampens January sales

BY Michael Johnsen

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fred’s Super Dollar on Thursday reported $134.8 million in sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 1, representing a 1.1% decline on an adjusted basis. Total sales for the fiscal year totaled $1.9 billion, representing an increase of 1.4% on an adjusted basis. 

On an adjusted basis, comparable store sales decreased 1.8% in January versus flat comparable store sales in the year-earlier period. Also on an adjusted basis, comparable store sales for fiscal 2013 increased 0.6% versus a decrease of 1.4% for fiscal 2012. 

"The weather was a significant challenge for us in January," stated Bruce Efird, Fred’s CEO. "It not only disrupted consumer shopping patterns, but also resulted in more than 120 store closings during the final week of the month. Prior to the last week of January, sales were running in the mid-range of our forecast, with reconfiguration departments leading the way," he reported. "In the final week of the month, comparable store sales dropped into the negative double digits, culminating in a weather effect on comparable store sales for all of January that is estimated at more than 300 basis points."

Efird noted that lower-than-anticipated sales in the last week of January will reduce earnings for the final quarter of 2013 by approximately $0.03 per share. Fred’s now expects to report fourth quarter earnings per diluted share in the range of $0.13 to $0.16 cents versus earnings of $0.15 per diluted share for the comparable 13-week period last year.

"With January closing out the fourth quarter, we had success in several areas, most notably in our reconfiguration departments that include pharmacy, pet, auto and hardware, which will carry forward in 2014," Efird said. "We are also in the process of revamping our fourth quarter marketing, promotion and pricing strategies to respond to changing consumer buying habits, along with the increasing popularity of internet shopping. We are confident that our strategies to build a strong presence in specialty pharmacy and clinical services, together with accelerating pharmacy acquisitions and new pricing, promotion and marketing programs, will lead to continued success in 2014."

Fred’s sales for the four-week month of January and 52-week fiscal year 2013, which ended Feb. 1, were compared against five-week month and 53-week year-earlier periods. To make the January sales results for 2013 comparable with those of the prior year, Fred’s eliminated the first week of the month, quarter and year in 2012 to make similar four-, 13- and 52-week periods. 

During January, Fred’s opened one new store and two Xpress pharmacies. For the year, Fred’s added a net total of 25 new locations, consisting of 11 new stores and 14 new Xpress pharmacies, which was offset by the closing of 25 store locations and eight Xpress pharmacies. The company also opened 26 new pharmacies in 2013 and closed 17, for a net addition of nine pharmacies during the year.

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Study finds telehealth expands access to health care

BY Antoinette Alexander

WASHINGTON — As the interest in telemedicine programs continues to grow, a recent Rand study found that people who are younger, more affluent and do not have established healthcare relationships are more likely to use a telemedicine program that allows patients to get medical help for acute ailments — including prescriptions — by talking to a doctor over the telephone.

Patients who used the service suffered from a wide assortment of acute medical problems, such as respiratory illnesses and skin problems, and researchers indicated that they found little evidence of misdiagnosis or treatment failure among those who used the service.

The findings, published in the February edition of the journal Health Affairs, are from the first assessment of a telemedicine program offered to a large, diverse group of patients across the United States.

"Telemedicine services such as the one we studied that directly links physicians and patients via telephone or Internet have the potential to expand access to care and lower costs," Lori Uscher-Pines, lead author of the study and a policy researcher at Rand, a nonprofit research organization, stated. "However, little is known about how these services are being used and whether they provide good quality care. Our study provides a first step to better understand this growing health care trend."

Uscher-Pines and co-author Ateev Mehrotra studied 3,701 patient "visits" provided from April 2012 to February 2013 by Teladoc, a provider of telemedicine services. Teladoc connects patients to providers for specialty visits or connects providers to other providers for consults for in-hospital care. Patients who used Teladoc were compared to peers who visited hospital emergency departments or a doctor’s office for a similar problem.


Among patients studied, the most common problems for a Teladoc visit were acute respiratory conditions, urinary tract infections and skin problems, which accounted for more than half the cases. Other frequent reasons for Teladoc visits were abdominal pain, back and joint problems, viral illnesses, eye problems and ear infections.

Teladoc users were slightly more likely to be women and live in more affluent areas. In addition, more than a third of Teladoc visits occurred on weekends or holidays.

"The people who are attracted to this type of telemedicine may be a more technologically savvy group that has less time to obtain medical care through traditional settings," Mehrotra, a Rand researcher and an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School, said.

Across the leading conditions, visits to Teladoc were less likely than visits to the emergency department or a physician office to result in a follow-up visit for a similar condition, according to researchers. Rand researchers have indicated that the finding suggests that health problems were most likely adequately addressed during the Teladoc visits. However, researchers caution that more research is necessary to further assess the quality and safety of telemedicine services.

Support for the study was provided by the California HealthCare Foundation.

 

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Costco January sales up 6%

BY Michael Johnsen

ISSAQUAH, Wash. — Costco on Thursday reported net sales of $8 billion for the four weeks ended Feb. 2, representing an increase of 6% percent from the similar four-week period last year. 

Comparable store sales across Costco’s U.S. store base were up 5%.

For the 22 weeks ended Feb. 2, Costco reported net sales of $46.3 billion, representing a similar increase of 6% vs. the year-ago period. 

 

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