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Supermarket giant raises fiscal-year forecast.

CINCINNATI -- Following a strong third quarter showing, Kroger elevated its earnings guidance for fiscal 2012.

Management now pegs full-year adjusted earnings at $2.44 to $2.46 per diluted share, up from its previous projection of $2.35 to $2.42 per share.

The figures exclude a net benefit of 14 cents per share that was recorded in the third quarter from a settlement with Visa and MasterCard as well as a reduced obligation to fund a consolidated pension fund for the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

During a conference call chief financial officer Michael Slottmann noted that the full-year range implies fourth quarter earnings of 68 cents to 70 cents per share. Excluding fuel, identical-supermarket sales for the final period are now projected to grow at a 3% to 3.5% pace.

Kroger's solid bottom-line performance has been driven, in part, by a consistently strong sales effort that has shown up in robust identical-store sales figures.

Kroger president and chief operating officer Rodney McMullen shed some light on the pharmacy's role in the company's top-line performance during the conference call.

The growth in generic drugs had a negative impact of 1% on total identical-supermarket sales during the quarter, McMullen said, adding that the company's ability to attract and retain pharmacy business as a result of the now-resolved impasse between Walgreen Co. and Express Scripts Inc. largely offset that impact.

"I want to congratulate and thank our pharmacy teams for managing through a difficult year," McMullen said. "They have done a phenomenal job, and that's an understatement."

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Date:Jan 7, 2013
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