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DEERFIELD, IL-An aggressive expansion program along with strong pharmacy and general merchandise sales helped Walgreens post its 31st consecutive year of record sales and earnings, the nation’s largest drug store chain said Monday.

Net earnings for the fourth quarter remained flat however, due in large part to Hurricane Katrina, which created a $54.7 million pre-tax charge for expenses associated with the closing of 74 stores in the affected area. All but 32 of those stores have been reopened.

The $54.7 million charge kept earnings at $329 million or 32 cents per diluted share for the quarter ending Aug. 31, an increase of 1.4% over the same period last year when earnings posted at $324.4 million or 32 cents per share. Fiscal year net earnings increased 15.5% to $1.56 billion or $1.52 per diluted share compared to last year’s $1.35 billion or $1.31 per diluted share, the company said.

Sales at the drugstore chain also rose 11.3% to $10.5 billion during the quarter and 12.5% or $42.2 billion for the year. For stores open more than a year, total sales were up 7% during the quarter and 8.2% for the year. Prescription sales, which made up 64% of all sales during fiscal 2004, increased 11.5% in the quarter and 13.4% for the year with same-store prescription sales increasing 7.7% in the quarter and 9.8% during the fiscal year. During 2005, Wallgreens filled 490 million prescriptions, a 10.6% increase from the previous year and more than any other pharmacy retailer nationwide.

The drug store chain said it has mounted an aggressive expansion campaign that will add 371 new stores in fiscal 2005 and another 390 stores in fiscal 2006. Work also is continuing on a new distribution facility that is set to open in South Carolina in 2007. The pharmacy giant currently operates 4,953 drugstores in 45 states and Puerto Rico.

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