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Walgreens announces consecutive quarterly dividend No. 318

BY Michael Johnsen

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens on Thursday declared a regular quarterly dividend of 22.5 cents per share, a 28.6% increase over the year-ago dividend. The dividend is payable March 12, 2012, to shareholders of record Feb. 17, 2012.

Walgreens has paid a dividend in 317 straight quarters (more than 79 years) and has raised its dividend for 36 consecutive years. Over the last five years, Walgreens’ annual dividend rate has increased from 31 cents per share to 90 cents per share, resulting in a compound annual growth rate of 23.8%.

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Target OKs $5 billion share repurchase authorization

BY Allison Cerra

MINNEAPOLIS — Target’s board of directors has approved a new $5 billion share repurchase program, which will be implemented upon the completion of the company’s current $10 billion program.

Target said while it expects to complete its current program early this year, it expects to complete the new $5 billion authorization in the next two to three years, saying the program "represents an opportunity to apply excess cash flow to what [the company believes] will be an attractive long-term investment."

“Our plans envision continued generation of much more cash than we believe is appropriate to invest in our core businesses,” Target EVP and CFO Doug Scovanner said. “We’re committed to maintaining Target’s long history of returning cash to shareholders through both dividends and share repurchase, and this new authorization will allow for seamless execution of share repurchase beyond completion of the current program.”

In related news, the board also declared a quarterly dividend of 30 cents per common share — its 178th consecutive dividend paid since October 1967 — which is payable March 10 to shareholders of record at the close of business Feb. 15.

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December retail sales reach $400 billion mark

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — Despite barely rising in December, retail sales hit a record for the year, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday.

U.S. retail and food services sales for the month, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, increased 0.1% to $400.6 billion from the previous month and 6.5% above December 2010. Adjusted retail sales were virtually unchanged.

Looking across retail categories, the Census Bureau reported that grocery store sales saw a decline in December, decreasing from $46.5 billion to $46.4 billion. Health and personal care stores rose from $23.3 billion to $23.1 billion. Retail sales for drug stores and pharmacies were not recorded; however, sales were virtually flat from October to November ($19.3 billion to $19.26 billion).

For the year, total retail sales were up 7.7% to $4.7 trillion, while sales excluding motor vehicles and parts totaled nearly $3.9 trillion, 7.3% above 2010.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation said that holiday sales rose 4.1% to $471.5 billion, beating NRF’s projection of 3.8%.

"The right mix of strong promotions, lean inventories and an emphasis on value put retailers in the perfect position to end the year on a high note," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “A better-than-expected holiday season is welcome news for an economic recovery that continues to be sluggish, and demonstrates retail’s powerful role as an engine of growth.”

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