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AMERICAN STORES REPORTS INCREASE IN NET EARNINGS

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American Stores Co. Tuesday reported net earnings of $42.8 million, or 61 cents per common share for its third fiscal quarter ended Oct. 31, up from $28.9 million or 42 cents in the same period last year.

Net earnings for the 39 weeks ended Oct. 31 were $112.6 million or $1.61 per common share, which includes a loss of 20 cents per share, principally on the sale of 74 Jewel Osco combination food and drug stores to Albertsons Inc.The 1992 figures compare to earnings of $140.5 million or $2.03 per share for the period last year. The 1991 period includes a net non-recurring gain of 99 cents per common share, primarily from the sale of Alpha Beta Co. and a non-recurring charge for the cumulative effect of a change in accounting for postretirement health care benefits of $0.59 per common share.

Total sales were $4.6 billion for the third quarter and $14.2 billion for the year-to-date. Third quarter like store sales decreased approximately 1 percent while year-to-date like store sales were down less than one-half of 1 percent.

"Our third quarter results were right on target, which is particularly encouraging in the face of the sustained economic slowdown," said Victor L. Lund, president and chief executive officer.

"The diversity of our business operations once again benefited American Stores Co.," he said. "Our drug store operations posted strong results, offsetting weakness in the grocery sector."

From the company's perspective, the economy was still sluggish and consumers "continue to trade down in their purchases," said Lund. "This, combined with sustained food deflation and moderate drug inflation, has impacted . . . store sales for the quarter."