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    Metro Boosts 4Q Net

    The growth was driven by the successful resolution of issues related to the company's information systems in Ontario, and the strong performance of its Quebec stores.

    Metro, Inc.'s net earnings came to CAN $72.3 million (US $57.7 million) in the fourth quarter of 2008, vs. CAN $57.6 million (US $46.0 million) in 2007, an increase of 25.5 percent. Fully diluted net earnings per share rose 30.6 percent to 64 cents, from 49 cents last year.

    Net earnings for fiscal 2008 were CAN $292.7 million (US $233.6 million), a 5.8 percent increase from the CAN $276.6 million (US $220.7 million) posted last year, and fully diluted net earnings per share grew to $2.58 from $2.37 last year, an 8.9 percent rise.

    "Our teams' efforts and the actions taken to overcome the problems encountered in the first half of 2008 paid off with the growth of our earnings in the last two quarters," said Metro president and c.e.o. Eric R. La Fleche. "The conversion of our five Ontario conventional banners to the Metro banner started in September and as of Nov. 17, 2008, 42 stores have been converted. These conversions have been very well received by customers, and results so far are encouraging. I am confident that our capital investment program in Ontario and the strength of our Quebec network will enable us to continue to grow in 2009."

    Sales for the fourth quarter were CAN $2,476.0 million (US $1,976.4 million), up 1.8 percent from the CAN $2,432.4 million (US $1,941.6 million) reported for the year-ago period. Excluding lower sales of tobacco products, fourth-quarter sales went up 2.1 percent. Fourth quarter same-store sales increased 1.5 percent.

    Fiscal 2008 sales were CAN $10,725.2 million (US $8,562.1 million), an increase of 0.8 percent from the CAN $10,644.6 million (US $8,494.7 million) posted last year. Excluding lower sales of tobacco products, sales grew by 1.3 percent.

    "Sales for the four quarters of 2008 vs. those for 2007 were affected by strong competition in Ontario," Metro noted, adding that "the drop in profitability in the first two quarters of 2008 compared with the same quarters of 2007 stems from a more intensely competitive environment in Ontario, and the issues associated with our new Ontario information systems and Quebec Food Services warehouse."

    Meanwhile, the successful resolution of issues related to the company's information systems in Ontario, and the solid performance of its Quebec operations, contributed to earnings growth in the third and fourth quarters of fiscal 2008, Metro added.

    During fiscal 2008 Metro invested CAN $257.9 million (US $205.8 million) in its store base, for a gross expansion of 423,000 square feet, or 2.3 percent, and a net expansion of 283,200 square feet, or 1.5 percent. The grocer completed major renovations and expansions of 26 stores and opened and 10 new stores.

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