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WOONSOCKET, RI-Strong performance by its recently acquired Eckerd Drug chain and an increased demand for generic drugs pushed third quarter earnings up 38% at CVS, the nation’s second largest pharmacy chain announced.

Earnings stood at $249.2 million, or 30 cents per share, for the quarter ending Oct. 1, an increase from the $181 million, or 22 cents per share earned in the same period one year earlier. Revenue also rose 13% to $8.97 billion from $7.91 billion, slightly below the company’s sales estimate of $9 billion.

“The core business is solid across the board and the acquired stores are doing very well,” said Nancy Christal, vice president of investor relations in a conference call with investors and analysts on Thursday.

Driven by demand for Halloween merchandise and generic drugs, the company reported that same-store sales for October rose 5.6% while total sales for the four week period ending Oct. 29 rose 7.8% to $2.6 billion. Comp-store sales showed an increase of 5.1% at the pharmacy and 6.9% at the front end, the company said.

The Woonsocket, RI chain also forecast solid earnings growth for 2006 despite setbacks incurred with the recent closing of 200 Florida stores due to hurricane Wilma.

“Overall, our business is strong,” said Chief Financial Officer David Rickard, adding that the company is standing by its third quarter and full year outlook.

CVS said strong third quarter sales were helped by the acquisition last year of about 1,100 Eckerd stores from J.C., Penny Co. With that acquisition and the addition of more than 85 new stores this year, CVS has more than 5,000 stores in 36 states but remains second in sales to Walgreens. The company, which opened 22 stores in the third quarter, said it plans to open another 100 new stores in 2006.

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