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Rite Aid March Same-Store Sales Rose 3.6%

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Rite Aid Corp.'s (RAD) same-store sales rose 3.6% in March, continuing a streak of monthly growth for the drugstore chain. The No. 3 U.S. drugstore chain behind Walgreen Co. (WAG) and CVS Caremark Corp. (CVS) reported same-store sales growth in all but one month during 2011; March 2011 had a 0.1% drop. Last month Rite Aid reported its fourth-quarter same-store sales rose 3%, its best showing in five years. Analysts have been expecting Rite Aid and CVS to gain market share as a result of Walgreen's exiting pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts Holding Co.'s (ESRX) network late last year. The move was expected to result in some of Walgreen's customers going to competitors such as Rite Aid to fill prescriptions. During March, same-store sales were up 4.6% in the front of the store. Pharmacy same-store sales increased 3.2%, despite a negative impact of 2.4 percentage points from generic drug introductions. Same-store prescription counts grew 2.6%. Total March drugstore sales rose 3.1% to $1.99 billion. Prescription sales accounted for 69.2% of drugstore sales. Rite-Aid, which has about 4,659 stores, has posted losses since its 2007 acquisition of the Brooks and Eckerd chain stores that saddled it with debt just before consumers slashed spending. The company in December reported that its fiscal third-quarter loss narrowed on higher same-store sales as the drugstore chain's wellness and loyalty and flu-immunization programs lifted pharmacy-department sales. Shares were up 2.3% at $1.75 in recent premarket trading. -By Tess Stynes, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481;

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