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CAMP HILL, PA-Strapped by higher operating costs and lackluster sales, Rite Aid Corp. posted a net loss of $5.2 million for the third quarter of 2005 compared to a profit of $288,000 a year earlier. The loss attributable to common shareholders amounted to two cents a share, doubled analysts estimates for the quarter ending Nov. 28.

The nation’s third-largest drugstore chain also said it was standing by its previous full-year forecast of between a one-cent per-share loss to a four cents per share profit on sales of $17.1 billion to $17.4 billion. Net income for fiscal 2006 is expected to be between $31 million and $62 million.

Rite Aid, which faces stiff competition from rivals CVS and Walgreens, said despite the negative numbers, same-store sales increased 1.7%, with a 0.7% increase in pharmacy same-store sales and a 3.4% increase in front-end same store sales.

Prescriptions made up 63.8% of total sales with third-party prescription sales representing 94.1% of that total. Revenue also rose 0.9% to $4.15 billion from $4.11 billion last year, the company said.

“We are pleased with these positive sales trends, which have continued into December,” Mary Sammons, Rite Aid’s president and chief executive officer told analysts and investors in a conference call Thursday. Sammons says sales of consumables, private brands and digital photos were also trending strong.

The company, which operates approximately 3,300 stores in 28 states and the District of Columbia, also opened eight new stores during the third quarter and plans to open a total of 80 new stores by the end of the fiscal year. Plans call for an additional 125 to 150 stores to be opened in fiscal 2006 and 2007.

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