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    INTERNATIONAL NEWS

    Canadian Tire boasts increased earnings; Altadis to buy Russian tobacco group.

    Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. reported second quarter net earnings of $82.8 million, an increase of 29.3 percent compared to $64 million in 2003. Excluding non-operating gains and losses, net earnings were $74.8 million, an increase of 20.5 percent compared to $62 million last year.

    Canadian Tire operates nearly 1,100 stores, gas bars and car washes in an interrelated network of businesses engaged in retail, financial services and petroleum.

    Basic earnings per share were up 28.2 percent in the second quarter to $1.02, compared to 79 cents the previous year. Excluding non-operating gains and losses, earnings per share increased 19.4 percent to 91 cents, compared to 77 cents for the same period last year.

    "Canadian Tire delivered a successful quarter in the face of very wet and cool weather that delayed the spring and summer season, and a volatile retail gasoline market," said Wayne C. Sales, president and CEO. "In this environment, we continued to increase both top-line sales and net earnings."

    In other news, Spanish-French tobacco group Altadis agreed to buy 81 percent of Russian tobacco group Balkan Star for ˆ147 million ($186 million). Altadis said that the deal gives it a strong presence in Russia, the fourth largest cigarette market in the world, and reinforces its position in Central and Eastern European markets.

    The European tobacco group also promised to extend the offer to the minority shareholders who hold the remaining 19 percent of Balkan Star's shares on the same terms. In this case the total sum of the deal may go up to ˆ182 million ($230 million). The final deal will be signed in the fourth quarter of 2004 after a consideration by the Russian Anti-Monopoly Service.

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