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Walgreen Sales Strong In April On Customer Traffic, Tickets

Walgreen (WAG) sales climbed 8.8% in April to $5.96 billion as more customers visited stores and spent 6% more per visit.

Results also got a lift from a later Easter holiday this year than last, the No. 1 U.S. drug store operator said.

Shares of Walgreen rose 1.5% to 69.86, a record close. The stock set an intraday peak of 70.07 just last Thursday.

The report came after archrival CVS Caremark (CVS) Friday reported so-so first-quarter results amid wicked winter weather that kept some shoppers away.

CVS Q1 earnings per share jumped 23% to $1.02 as sales rose 6.3% to $32.69 billion.

Shares of CVS, the largest provider of prescription drugs in the U.S., also climbed 1.5% Monday to 74.99, near a record close.

The Retail-Drug Stores group was one of the top performing industries Monday.

Wolfe Research said in a client note Monday that CVS EPS came in "slightly below expectations, however it remains one of our top picks for 2014 as the underlying strength of the company's business, coupled with its impressive cash flow" and other factors "make CVS Caremark a compelling investment.

CVS, which also provides pharmacy benefit management services, and its top rival in that sector Express Scripts (ESRX) both received subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney's office in Rhode Island last week.

CEO Larry Merlo said on a conference call with analysts Friday the CVS subpoena requested documents related to fees and rebates, adding that the drugstore chain is cooperating with officials.

Express Scripts last week said it was asked for information about contracts with Pfizer (PFE), Biogen Idec (BIIB) and others regarding various medicines they sell, Bloomberg reported.

Walgreen continues to recover from a 2012 feud with Express Scripts that hurt prescription sales. Walgreen said April pharmacy sales, which accounted for 64.5% of total revenue for the month, increased by 9.2%, and 7.3% in comparable stores.

For calendar year 2014 to date, sales were up 5.4% to $25.36 billion, vs. the same period a year ago.

Walgreen opened eight stores in April, including two relocations. It bought six stores and closed two, bringing its total to 8,699 locations.

On March 25, Walgreen reported a 5.1% increase in fiscal Q2 sales to $19.61 billion, about in line with estimates. Earnings per share fell 5% for the quarter, to 91 cents, undershooting views for 93 cents. CEO Greg Wasson blamed a weak flu season and higher promotion costs.

For the current quarter, outlook is for Walgreen EPS to rise 9% to 93 cents and revenue to grow 5% to $19.22 billion.

Shares of Rite Aid (RAD), a distant third after pharmacy giants Walgreen and CVS, fell 2 cents to 7.85, holding near 12-year highs.

Express Scripts slid less than 1%.