UPDATE 3-Jean Coutu posts higher profit, raises dividend

Thu Apr 28, 2011 11:03am EDT

* EPS C$0.20 vs analyst forecast C$0.19

* Same-store sales up 1.4 percent

* Raises quarterly dividend 9 pct

* Says on lookout for acquisitions (Adds details from conference call, shares)

By S. John Tilak

TORONTO, April 28 (Reuters) - Jean Coutu Group Inc (PJCa.TO) reported a higher quarterly profit on Thursday, beating analysts' estimates, as the Canadian pharmacy chain posted modest gains in both prescription and front-of-store sales.

The company also set a quarterly dividend of 6 Canadian cents a share, up 9.1 percent from the previous quarter, and said it was looking for acquisitions.

Quarterly revenue, which missed analysts' forecasts, was hurt by government measures to bring down the price of generic drugs in the province of Quebec, where Jean Coutu is based, the company said. [ID:nN17115151] [ID:nN08213820]

Retail sales at stores open at least a year rose 1.4 percent in the quarter. Pharmacy sales gained 0.9 percent, and front-end sales -- food, drink and beauty items -- rose 1.5 percent.

Generic drugs accounted for 55.6 percent of the company's prescriptions in the quarter thanks to the launch of generic versions of large-volume drugs in the past 12 months. This compares with 51.2 percent a year ago.

The regulatory changes, which began in Ontario last year and spread to Quebec, have hurt the profits of other large drugstore chains, such as Shoppers Drug Mart Corp SC.TO and Katz Group-owned Rexall, but may prove disastrous for small, independent pharmacies.

Independents might find it hard to increase revenue because of the reforms, Chief Executive Francois Coutu said on a conference call with analysts.

"It could be decision-making time (for independent pharmacies). We will be there to look at any possible acquisitions," he added.

Jean Coutu runs nearly 400 drugstores in Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario under banners including Jean Coutu, Clinique, Sante and Sante Beaute.

Earnings for the fourth quarter, ended Feb. 26, rose to C$46.4 million ($48.8 million), or 20 Canadian cents a share, from C$42.8 million, or 18 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had forecast earnings of 19 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 3 percent to C$655.6 million, trailing the average analyst estimate of C$657.9 million.

The stock, up 14 percent in the past six months, climbed 0.6 percent to C$10.51 on Thursday morning on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

($1=$0.95 Canadian) (Reporting by S. John Tilak, editing by Rob Wilson)

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