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Rite Aid’s February sales increase

BY Alaric DeArment

CAMP HILL, Pa. — February sales at Rite Aid increased 1% over the prior-year period, while the chain’s front-end and pharmacy same-store sales increased 1.1% and 0.9%, respectively.

Total drug store sales for the five-week period increased 0.1% to about $2.44 billion, Rite Aid reported.

The earnings were below expectations issued by Credit Suisse analyst Edward Kelly in a research note released Monday, which projected a 1.5% to 2% increase in comparable sales for Rite Aid versus consensus of 0.5%. Kelly added that he believed pharmacy comparable sales would see a 1.5% boost, while the chain’s front-end sales would rise 2.5%, thanks to increased traffic from the chain’s loyalty program, Wellness+.

Meanwhile, Rite Aid’s sales for the 13-week fourth quarter, which ended Feb. 26, totaled $6.43 billion, compared with nearly $6.44 billion in fourth quarter 2010, the retail pharmacy chain said Thursday.

Despite the slight decrease in total store sales, same-store sales for the quarter increased 0.9%, and front-end same-store sales increased by 1%, compared with last year. Same-store prescriptions filled increased 0.8%.

Total store sales for the fiscal year were $25.1 billion, a 1.8% decrease from last year’s $25.6 billion. Same-store sales decreased by 0.7%, including a 0.3% decrease in front-end sales and a 0.9% decrease in pharmacy sales. Prescription sales accounted for 67.8% of the total, while third-party prescription sales constituted 96.2% of pharmacy sales.

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Inflation, higher fuel prices to drive 2011 grocer gains

BY Michael Johnsen

CINCINNATI — Kroger on Thursday beat analysts’ quarterly consensus, posting 46 cents in earnings per share (adjusted for a goodwill impairment charge) that exceeded consensus by 2 cents EPS, with a higher-than-expected identical-store sales lift of 3.8% (excluding fuel).

Same-store sales were particularly strong across natural food, bakery and deli/meat, Kroger chairman and CEO David Dillon told analysts during a conference call. “We were particularly pleased by sales growth in our drug and merchandise departments,” Dillon said.

For fiscal year 2011, Kroger anticipated identical-supermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, of approximately 3% to 4%. Full-year net earnings are expected to range from $1.80 to $1.92 per diluted share. Those projects skew conservative, company executives noted, because of the present “fragile” economy.

“Economy recovery continues to be slower … than expected,” Dillon said. “And we expect this to persist.” Rising food prices — the grocer projected 1% inflation — could represent a significant drag on consumer discretionary spending, as could potential summertime gas prices of higher than $4 per gallon.

There’s a silver lining in all of this for grocers, however, Dillon noted. Inflation during a recession period would benefit Kroger’s brand, whether that inflation is restricted to brand offerings or not. However, inflation across certain categories, such as milk and perishables, is not a positive, Dillon said.

And any significant increase in gas prices is a similar boon. “The convenience of having gasoline is actually a big plus,” Dillon noted, pointing to the more than 1,000 fuel depots located across the chain’s supermarket footprint. When gas prices are high, consumers drive shorter distances and consolidate trips.

Dillon suggested Kroger will benefit further by its customer segmentation analyses — upscale consumes currently are more confident and are spending more; lower household-income demographics, however, are still challenged. “We try to address that in what we offer [with] our pricing; what we do in our ads; what we do in our stores,” Dillon said.

Total sales for the quarter ended Jan. 29, including fuel, were up 7.4% to $19.9 billion. Excluding fuel sales, total sales increased 4.2% over the same period last year. Net earnings for the fourth quarter totaled $278.8 million, or 44 cents per diluted share. At the end of the fourth quarter, net total debt was $7.3 billion, a decrease of $243.5 million from a year ago.

On a rolling four-quarters basis, Kroger’s net total debt to EBITDA ratio, adjusted for the impairment charges in fiscal 2010 and 2009, was 1.89, compared with 1.97 during the same period last year.

For fiscal year 2010, total sales increased 7.1% to $82.2 billion. Excluding fuel sales, total sales increased 3.4% over the prior year. Identical-supermarket sales, without fuel, increased 2.8% in fiscal year 2010, compared with the prior fiscal year. Net earnings for fiscal year 2010 were $1.12 billion, or $1.74 per diluted share.

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SpendingPulse: Retail sales up in February

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK — Retail sales in February rose in most categories, despite winter storms and rising gas prices, according to MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse.

The increase maintained the positive performance that began in fall 2010, but February’s year-over-year growth rates were smaller in most categories than those recorded in the November 2010 through January 2011 period.

“February held onto the momentum from the last few months," said Michael McNamara, VP research and analysis at SpendingPulse. "Ongoing strong performance by the financial markets and growing consumer confidence may have contributed to ongoing retail growth, especially in the upper tier of the different categories. This is even in the face of the disruptive weather that put a damper on spending in several sectors.”

McNamara said that if gas prices continue to rise — the national average gasoline price passed the $3.15 mark last month for the first time since 2008 — it could put a damper on spending. "That’s one of the things on the watch list," he said.

Online sales rose 13.2%, continuing to outpace physical store sales. Higher gas prices actually could help online sales, McNamara said, if more people decide to shop at home.

The International Council of Shopping Centers expected revenue in stores open at least one year to rise 2.5% to 3% industrywide. "February has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for retailers as weekly sales continue to bounce back and forth," said Michael Niemira, ICSC VP research and chief economist, in a note last week.

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