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NEW YORK -- Walgreen Co.'s shares fell sharply on Monday as investors worried that slowing sales growth and fierce competition could lead the No. 1 U.S. drugstore chain to miss earnings targets for the current fiscal quarter.
Walgreen, with rivals including giant retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and grocers such as Albertson's Inc. saw its stock hit a two-and-half-year low, shaving off around $2 billion in its market value on the New York Stock Exchange in the afternoon.
Walgreen shed 59 cents or 1.98 percent to $29.21, after earlier sliding as low as $28.10 -- a 2-1/2-year low.
Richard Hastings, an analyst at Cyber Business Credit, said portfolio managers could be "looking at vulnerable stocks and determining that Walgreen may be among companies that may find it difficult to grow profit if comparable store sales stay weak."
Comparable store sales, or same-store sales, are a closely-watched measure of retailing performance at stores open at least a year, thus stripping out the vagaries of newly opened or relocated outlets.
Walgreen, along with its peers CVS Corp. and Rite Aid Corp., has seen waning consumer spending and price-driven rivalry, with competition from mass merchants restraining sales growth in the highly profitable general merchandise segment.