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TORONTO (Reuters) - Shoppers Drug Mart Corp SC.TO, Canada's biggest pharmacy chain, said on Thursday its quarterly profit rose along with sales, especially in its non-prescription business, and its shares rose 2 percent.
Front-of-store sales, which include over-the-counter medications, cosmetics, food and drinks, rose 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter, outpacing prescription revenue, which was up 2.3 percent.
"They delivered to expectations, which I think is solid," said Scotia Capital analyst Patricia Baker. "It's a tough economy out there."
Shoppers also raised its dividend by 6 percent and renewed its share repurchase program.
Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough said higher-than-expected non-prescription sales pushed earnings above expectations, perhaps with the help of discounting.
"Obviously it was very promotionally driven, and that's been going on for two years now, and I don't see an end in sight," he said.
Margins on prescription drugs narrowed because of government reforms that have lowered the price of generics. That segment of prescriptions rose to 57.1 percent in the quarter from 55.7 percent in the year-before period.
Yarbrough said drug reforms have been the biggest factor in pushing Shoppers from 15 to 18 percent earnings growth to 3 to 7 percent growth. He sees the headwinds persisting as more Canadian provinces consider regulatory changes already in place in Ontario and Quebec.
For the quarter ended December 31, net income rose to C$176 million ($176.82 million), or 82 Canadian cents a share, from C$169 million, or 78 Canadian cents, in the same quarter last year. Analysts, on average, had expected earnings of 82 Canadian cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Shoppers said it expects sales to increase between 2.5 and 3.0 percent in 2012, after a rise of 2.6 percent last year. As part of its C$350 million capital program, it plans to increase retail space by 3.5 percent, relocating about 20 stores, opening 20 to 25 new outlets, and expanding about 15 locations.
Shoppers raised its quarterly dividend to 26.5 Canadian cents a share. In renewing the repurchase program, it authorized the purchase of up 10.6 million shares, or about 5 percent of shares outstanding, by February 14, 2013.
The company's shares were up 2.0 percent at C$40.63 on Thursday morning on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay in Bangalore; Editing by Peter Galloway and Janet Guttsman