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    Couche-Tard to Break 6,000th Mark by 2008

    Despite pressure on margins, company is in good shape to buy assets, chief says.

    LAVAL, Quebec -- Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., operator of more than 5,500 convenience stores in North America, plans to expand its portfolio in fiscal 2008 with acquisitions that will total between 200 and 300 stores, despite pressure on margins in the United States, the Globe and Mail reported.

    "We have had a good year in a volatile market," chairman, president and chief executive officer Alain Bouchard said during a conference call on fourth-quarter financial results.

    In addition, the company is planning to remodel approximately 400 stores, the report stated. In fiscal 2007, the company acquired more than 500 stores.

    "I think [the 200 to 300 store estimate] is a number we can beat if the opportunities are there," Bouchard told analysts during the conference call. "Our management is ready for more stores in the majority of our divisions."

    Some of the pressures the chain faces in the U.S. are a volatile fuel market, increased competition from rivals in the beer, milk and fresh-product categories and an economic slowdown, according to the Globe and Mail. However, the company has the resources to deal with consumer resistance in a slowdown, and gas and c-store merchandise are not the first items to suffer when discretionary spending starts to decline, Bouchard said.

    Overall, the U.S. shows opportunities for growth, said Couche-Tard's chief financial officer, Richard Fortin. "The marketplace in the U.S. should permit us to grow in a very profitable way going forward," he said.

    In other acquisition news, 14 ConocoPhillips-branded gas stations and investment properties in the Springfield, Mo., area were put on the auction block through Chicago-based Sheldon Good & Co. Auctions LLC.

    The portfolio is made up of 11 currently-operating gas stations with convenience stores, two of which include a Subway restaurant; as well as a bulk plant, a strip center with a Subway restaurant; and two commercial buildings. Six of the gas stations fly the Conoco banner, while four operate under the Phillips 66 brand. There is also one unbranded gas station and convenience store, which features Taylor's Dairy Joy, a Route 66 classic drive-up restaurant that's considered a novelty in the region.

    The properties will be sold through Sheldon Good's sealed bid absolute auction process, which calls for five of the 14 properties to be sold absolute to the highest bidder, regardless of price. The sealed bid deadline is Sept. 12.

    An information packet is available for each parcel, and includes such items as the purchase and sale agreement, preliminary commitment of title, detailed property information, copies of real estate tax bills, financial statements and an environmental report. Buyer's seminars will be held Aug. 9 and 30 at noon by appointment only, at the Courtyard by Marriott Springfield Airport.

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