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The logo of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. in Laval, Quebec September 6, 2006.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS/CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS

Convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. reported Tuesday that its profit increased 9.9 per cent to $139.5-million (U.S.) in the first quarter of its fiscal year.

The Quebec-based company, which reports in U.S. dollars, said the earnings amounted to 75 cents per share for the period ended July 12, up from 67 cents a year ago.

It credited the increased earnings to a drop in financial expenses, the strengthening of the Canadian dollar, expense control, higher merchandise sales and a lower tax rate. That was partly offset by a drop in contribution from motor fuel sales.

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Revenue increased 24 per cent to $5.18-billion.

Couche-Tard was expected to earn 78 cents per share on $5.46-billion of revenue, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

Same-store merchandise sales for locations open at least a year were up 1.5 per cent in the U.S., and down 0.2 per cent in Canada, due mainly to poor weather.

Same-store motor fuel volume decreased 1.6 per cent in the U.S. and 0.9 per cent in Canada.

Fuel gross margin was 19.95 cents per gallon in the U.S. and 5.53 cents per litre in Canada.

Meanwhile, Couche-Tard announced that Richard Fortin will step down as board chairman after the Sept. 6 annual meeting and be replaced by Real Plourde. Mr. Fortin will remain a director of the company.

The company recently announced the purchase later this year of 33 "On the Run" stores in southern Louisiana from ExxonMobil.

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The cost of the purchase has not been disclosed, but Couche-Tard plans to use cash to finance the transaction. The stores will be rebranded Circle K and sell Exxon gasoline.

Couche-Tard, with more than 53,000 employees, is Canada's largest convenience store chain and the second largest in North America. Its network is comprised of nearly 5,800 convenience stores, 4,128 of which include motor fuel dispensing in 43 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and all Canadian provinces.

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