November 22, 2011 / 5:15 PM / in 6 years

UPDATE 3-Couche-Tard profit rises with stronger sales

* Q2 EPS $0.61 vs $0.57 a year earlier

* Revenue up 24.2 pct at $5.15 billion

* Same-store sales up 2.5 pct in U.S., 3.3 pct in Canada (Adds analyst comment, expectations. In U.S. dollars unless noted)

TORONTO, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc (ATDb.TO), which operates convenience-store chains in Canada and the United States, on Tuesday posted a higher quarterly profit that fell short of forecasts, and the shares dipped.

The company’s profit was helped by lower expenses and stronger sales. Canaccord Genuity analyst Derek Dley said the miss was due to lower-than-expected margins on fuel in the United States.

“The market tends to focus on the merchandise performance at Couche-Tard because that’s where they generate 75 percent of their gross profit,” he said. “Overall it may have been a miss, but (on) what we believe is the key to the Couche-Tard story, the merchandise side, they’re still making traction.”

Merchandise sales at established stores, a key measure for retailers, rose 2.5 percent in the United States and 3.3 percent in Canada. The Quebec-based company said the sales growth more than offset lower margins on merchandise.

“Consumers continue to be very price-sensitive, forcing us to maintain promotions on certain products to protect traffic, which we successfully have done since the beginning of the year,” Chief Executive Alain Bouchard said in a release. “Of course, this puts pressure on our margin percentage.”

Net earnings for Couche-Tard’s second quarter, ended Oct. 9, rose to $113.5 million, or 61 cents a share, from $108.2 million, or 57 cents, in the year-before quarter. Revenue rose 24.2 percent to $5.15 billion.

Analysts, on average, had forecast earnings of 69 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company declared a quarterly dividend of C$0.075 a share, up from C$0.0625.

Couche-Tard stock was down 1.0 percent at C$29.83 early on Tuesday afternoon on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

$1=$1.04 Canadian Reporting by Allison Martell; editing by Peter Galloway

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