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Another profitable quarter, Rite Aid breaks out

Tom Murphy, AP Business Writer

FILE - In this June 20, 2011 file photo, a woman exits a Rite Aid store, in Philadelphia. Rite Aid on Thursday, April 10, 2014 reported its sixth-straight quarterly profit and announced an acquisition that aims to strengthen the drugstore chain's foothold in the burgeoning health care market. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Rite Aid has left the recovery ward and appears ready to break into a sprint after booking its sixth straight quarterly profit and making a deal to strengthen the drugstore chain's foothold in the burgeoning health clinic market.

Shares that had slumped below $1 by late 2012 soared above $7 Thursday morning after the retailer topped Wall Street expectations for the fourth quarter.

Rite Aid said that it acquired RediClinic, which runs 30 retail health clinics in or next to grocery stores in Texas, and it plans to add about 70 more over the next couple of years, including some in Rite Aid's existing drugstores.

Grocery stores, big retailers and Rite Aid competitors Walgreen Co. and CVS Caremark Corp. have built hundreds of clinics inside their stores in recent years as they push to provide more health care services. These clinics can bring in pharmacy business and customers seeking immunizations, treatment for relatively minor ailments and, in some cases, help with chronic conditions.

While this clinic boom developed, Rite Aid was busy closing underperforming stores and cleaning up a balance sheet heavy with debt from its purchase of Brooks Eckerd drugstores nearly seven years ago.

The company now appears ready to start catching up on clinics, a year after booking its first annual gain since 2007.

Drugstores are expanding their health care offerings as they vie for more business from both aging baby boomers with growing health needs and millions of people who are expected to gain health insurance coverage under the health care overhaul. Aside from clinics, they also are offering more vitamins, food and healthy living products

Rite Aid also is installing a new wellness theme in its locations. The store format, which the company introduced in 2011, offers more organic food and natural personal care products and a line of home fitness equipment that Rite Aid helped design.

Those stores have employees with iPads who can look up information on vitamins, find and print coupons, or enroll customers in services like automated pharmacy refills. Rite Aid said Thursday that it now has 1,215 wellness stores.

Rite Aid Chairman and CEO John Standley told analysts during a Thursday morning conference call that the remodeled stores will continue to be a key part of the company's strategy, but it also is starting to consider relocations and new stores.

Rite Aid has 4,600 stores in 31 states, compared to 8,200 operated by Walgreen, the nation's largest drugstore chain.

For the fourth quarter, Rite Aid earned $56.7 million, or 6 cents per share. That beat average analyst projections by 2 cents, according to FactSet.

It also represented a 54 percent drop from the previous year's final quarter, when Rite Aid benefited from a "last-in-first-out," or LIFO, inventory credit of more than $175 million. That compares with a $44.1 million charge in the recent quarter.

LIFO is an accounting method for inventory that assumes a company sells its newest inventory first, and takes a credit or charge according to anticipated inflation.

Revenue of $6.6 billion in the quarter that ended last month also edged out analyst expectations.

Rite Aid shares jumped more than 13 percent, or 84 cents, to $7.24 Thursday morning, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell slightly. That continued a tear the stock has been on since last year, when the shares more than tripled in value.