Eckerd Sale Reported Near

NEW YORK - J.C. Penney Co., Inc. is nearing a deal to sell its Eckerd drug store chain for nearly $4.4 billion in cash to CVS Corp. and Canadian firm Jean Coutu Group, Inc., which operates the Brooks chain in New England, according to a Reuters report.

Sources told Reuters the negotiations were entering their final stages today but remained sensitive and could still fall apart.

Last year J.C. Penney said it was putting Eckerd, the fourth-largest U.S. drug chain, with about 2,700 stores, on the block. Sources said a final transaction could be announced as early as this afternoon, but was more likely early next week.

The deal would give Coutu control of roughly 1,500 stores in northern states, extending the company's footprint beyond the 330-store Brooks Pharmacy chain, which is based in New England, the sources said. CVS, the No. 2 U.S. drug store chain, behind Walgreens, would assume the other 1,200 Eckerd stores, which are primarily located in the southern states.

Eckerd's mail-order pharmacy benefit management group will be split between CVS and Coutu.
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