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Take Care Health Systems opens new clinics

BY Antoinette Alexander

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. Take Care Health Systems, which is owned by Walgreens, has opened two new clinics.

A new clinic in the Rockford, Ill. area brings to four the number of total clinics in the market. A new clinic in the Kansas City area brings to 14 the total number of clinics in that market.

The company currently operates 298 clinics in 33 markets throughout 15 states.

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Fred’s reports results for 3Q 2008

BY Michael Johnsen

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Fred’s on Wednesday posted total sales of $418 million for its third quarter ending Nov. 1, representing a decline of 0.4 percent as compared to the third quarter of 2007.

On a comparable store basis, third quarter sales increased 1.4 percent.

“We move into the fourth quarter well prepared both financially and operationally,” stated Michael Hayes, chief executive officer of Fred’s. “With all the white noise surrounding the state of the economy, the fourth quarter is certain to be exciting. Despite the uncertainties, the market niche we serve and the ongoing success of our sales and operational initiatives put us in a good position to continue building market share.

For next year, Fred’s is scaling back expected benefits from generic prescriptions dispensed, in part because there will be fewer blockbuster drugs approaching patent expiration. “As we look into 2009 as far as a generics picture, we have, for planning purposes, back off slightly from where we had seen historical trends,” Rich Chambers, Fred’s executive vice president of pharmacy operations, said. “We don’t see the blockbuster drugs that we’ve historically seen back in ‘06/’07 and in the first part of ’08. … But in 2010, 2011 and 2012, when we see some of the bigger names coming off, we would expect [generic utulization] to ramp back up slightly to the numbers that we’re seeing currently as well as in the last year or two.”

Excluding stores closed in 2008, total sales from ongoing stores increased 4 percent over the third quarter of last year, the discount retailer reported. 

The company’s average market-basket increased 4.5 percent to $18.80, the retailer reported. “Inventory turns improved to 3.8 turns, from 3.7 at the same time last year, and it is anticipated that we will end this year at 3.9 turns,” Jerry Shore, Fred’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, stated during a conference call with analysts Wednesday morning.

During the third quarter, Fred’s opened one new store and two new pharmacies. For the year-to-date period, the company has opened 17 stores and five pharmacies.   

In the fourth quarter, Fred’s expects total sales to fall between 2 percent and 4 percent, reflecting the closing of the 75 stores and 22 pharmacies in line with the company’s planned restructuring program.  Comparable store sales are expected to be flat for the quarter with strong consumables sales offset by weaker sales in discretionary departments. 

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Most consumers believe economy is in a downturn, survey says

BY Michael Johnsen

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. Even as President-elect Barack Obama’s economy package begins to take form, consumers are still not ready to open their purse strings. Not yet. According to a NPD Group survey released Wednesday, 91 percent of consumers believe the economy is still in a downturn, up from 84 percent who felt that way in April.

“Off-hand, that 7 percent increase may not sound like a lot,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, “but when you turn the spending faucet of 14 million people off, that 7 percent from April to November represents trillions of dollars.”

And the number of consumers who say they will take advantage of sales or coupons has remained relatively steady since July. “So those huge sales that were designed to lure the customer in really don’t seem to have had much of an impact. They aren’t bringing the consumer’s back in to shop,” Cohen said.

Most consumers—57 percent—are cutting back on their spending by cutting down on their number of trips to restaurants, a factor that ought to bode well for grocery outlets. That is followed by cuts in spending on apparel. In the November Consumer Spending Indicator, 52 percent of respondents said they would cut back on apparel spending.

The same categories that were the least vulnerable in last month’s study remain so in the current month’s study with one slight change. Video games and toys remain steady while beauty is being edged out of the No. 3 spot.

Video games take the top spot as the least likely to see cut backs in consumer spending with 32 percent, followed by toys at 36 percent. This month, however, movies took the number three spot at 39 percent. Beauty slipped to forth this month at 41 percent. “But beauty is still showing that women remain loyal to their regimen even in tough times,” Cohen said.

As previously noted, an important measure of how consumers are fairing is how secure they feel about their jobs. In July, 25 percent of respondents said they were not concerned about their jobs, but in November only 19 percent reported they were not concerned.

“This is a number I watch very closely,” Cohen said. “I think it is the best indication of consumer behavior and now, what with the stock market, the political market, the media market and now, the job market, we are seeing an all time low here.”

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