Rite Aid ( RAD) posted a $38.8 million first-quarter loss due to a charge from the early retirement of debt. Excluding the charge, however, the company beat analysts' consensus by a penny.

The company lost 8 cents a share, compared with earnings of $2.6 million, or a loss of a penny a share (after preferred dividends), in the year-ago period. During the latest quarter, a $33.4 million charge resulted from the debt extinguishment, and the company also had $6 million of certain other costs. The prior-year quarter had an income tax benefit of $44 million, litigation settlement charges of $20 million, gains on asset sales of $16.9 million, and $6.7 million of certain other costs.

Excluding charges for the period ended May 31, the company had a break-even per-share quarter, earning $600,000. Analysts were expecting the company to lose a penny a share.

Revenue increased 3.1% to $4 billion, while same-store sales rose 4.3%. Pharmacy same-store sales were up 5.7%, the company said. Prescription sales were 64.5% of total sales, and third-party prescription sales were 93.1% of pharmacy sales.

"The first quarter was another good quarter for Rite Aid on two fronts," said President Mary Sammons. "We continued to improve our operating performance by achieving $175.1 million of adjusted EBITDA, an 11% increase over the first quarter of last year, as we delivered on our strategy of increasing sales, improving margins and containing costs. We also completed a major refinancing nearly two years ahead of schedule." Sammons will become president and chief executive following the company's annual stockholder meeting on June 25. She replaces Bob Miller, who will retain the position of chairman.

Rite Aid said it expects a net loss for the period ending Feb. 28, 2004, to be between zero and $63 million. Analysts expect the company to earn 8 cents a share. Rite Aid lost 15 cents a share in the previous year. Revenue is expected to be $16.5 billion to $16.7 billion in 2004. And same store sales are expected to improve 5.5% to 6.5% over fiscal 2003.

The Camp Hill, Pa.-based company also said it is resuming a new store development program with the goal of opening 75 new stores by the end of fiscal 2005. The company expects an additional 100 new stores to be opened in 2006.

Shares of the company closed at $4.03 Monday after the bell.

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