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Walgreen Profits Rise 16%

CHICAGO (AP) _ Walgreen Co. reported a 16 percent profit gain for its fiscal third quarter Monday, slightly topping Wall Street's expectations as it continued its store-a-day expansion pace.

Prescription drug sales, which have fueled a series of double-digit revenue gains for the Deerfield, Ill.-based company in recent years, rose 17 percent to account for 64 percent of company sales in the quarter.

Net earnings were $344.6 million, or 33 cents a share, up from $296.1 million, or 29 cents a share, a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had pegged estimates at 32 cents per share.

Revenues totaled $9.6 billion, up 15 percent from $8.3 billion.

``Strong sales, improved overall margins and good expense control combined for an excellent quarter,'' chairman and CEO David Bernauer said.

For the first nine months of the fiscal year, earnings were $1.03 billion, or $1 a share, up 15 percent from $898.6 million, or 87 cents a share, in the same period of 2003. Revenue rose 16 percent to $28.1 billion.

Walgreen operated 4,414 drugstores in 44 states and Puerto Rico as of May 31 _ 364 more than a year earlier. Bernauer said the company is on pace to open more than 425 new stores this year, for a new increase of more than 350 after store relocations and closings.
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