August 25, 2009 / 4:19 PM / in 9 years

UPDATE 2-Gasoline margins help Couche-Tard profit

* Q1 EPS $0.48 vs forecast $0.32

* Revenue drops 15 pct to $3.68 billion

* Shares up 4.9 pct at C$18.45 (In U.S. dollars unless noted. Adds background)

TORONTO, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Alimentation Couche-Tard (ATDb.TO) said on Tuesday it almost doubled its quarterly profit, despite a sharp drop in revenue, as higher gasoline margins in Canada helped it weather the economic downturn.

Couche-Tard, North America’s second-biggest convenience store retailer and operator of a string of gas bars, said it earned $91.1 million, or 48 cents a share, in its first quarter, handily beating consensus estimates.

In the corresponding quarter a year earlier, the company earned $47.2 million, or 24 cents a share.

Its shares rose 4.9 percent to C$18.45, building on a 34 percent gain since the start of the year.

Couche-Tard, which operates 5,900 stores under the Circle K banner in the United States and Mac’s in Canada, said revenue fell 15 percent to $3.68 billion, due to a weak Canadian dollar and falling gasoline prices. That also beat estimates.

Analysts had expected, on average, earnings per share of 32 cents before items and revenue of $3.56 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

Couche-Tard said fuel gross margins in Canada climbed 4.2 percent to 5.76 Canadian cents per liter, while the gross margins for the company-operated stores in the United States fell 0.8 percent to 15.43 cents per gallon.

Same-store merchandise sales increased 2.4 percent in the United States and 2.6 percent in Canada. Same store fuel sales dropped 4.5 percent in the United States and rose 1.5 percent in Canada.

“I believe our first-quarter results were satisfying. However, given the fact that economic conditions remain difficult, we must remain prudent. I am still not ready to say the recession is behind us,” chief executive Alain Bouchard said in a release. ($1=$1.08 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Janet Guttsman)

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