Flu season drives Longs’ January sales

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. A higher incidence of flu helped Longs Drugs rebound in January but it wasn’t enough to offset weak sales in December. That’s according to a report from Goldman Sachs analyst John Heinbockel, who said the firm was lowering its earnings forecast for fourth-quarter sales by $17 million to reflect “weaker sales earlier in the quarter.”

The 510-store chain reported a 1 percent increase in same-store sales for January, with pharmacy rising 1.2 percent and front-end sales jumping 0.7 percent. Heinbockel said the improvement “was driven primarily by a snapback in flu incidence, with both pharmacy and front-end sales gaining momentum.” He expects to see “further improvement in February (driven by a month of stronger flu) and March.”

Longs’ preliminary results for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 31 showed total sales increased 9.1 percent to $1.34 billion. Same-store sales dropped 0.6 percent, with pharmacy sales rising 0.7 percent and front-end sales falling 1.7 percent. Preliminary results for its full year show total sales increasing 4.9 percent to $4.88 billion and same store sales jumping 0.9 percent. Longs will report its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings on March 5.