Why Investors Should Not Give up on This Drug Retailer

Nick is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Walgreen (NYSE: WAG), along with its partnership with Alliance Boots, has strengthened its long-term position by working with AmerisourceBergen to become the world’s largest drug buyer. However, its short-term margin remains under pressure as reflected by the disappointing Q3 2013 results.

Results and concerns

Walgreen tumbled near 5.9% on June 25 after releasing Q3 adjusted earnings of $0.85 per share, which was below analysts’ estimated earnings of $0.91 per share. Due to a weaker British pound, Walgreen lowered its earnings expectation from Alliance Boosts for Q4 by a penny to $0.08 per share. For the full fiscal year, the adjusted EPS estimate was lowered to $0.16 from the previous estimate of $0.18 to $0.22.

The company’s margin will be negatively impacted by a trough in the generic wave, which is expected to continue until the latter half of fiscal 2014, and stronger promotion and pricing initiatives designed to drive traffic and front-end comps.

On the positive side, the company continues to be on track to deliver $125 million to $150 million in combined synergies from its joint-synergy program with Alliance Boots, which is on track with the previous target of $100 million to $150 million. Walgreen also generated strong cash flow of $1.4 billion with $1.1 billion in free cash flow.

What is Walgreen doing?

With its partnerships with Alliance Boots and AmerisourceBergen, Walgreen is strengthening its global sourcing ability, firming up its buying power of generic drugs and expanding its accessibility to specialized drugs. In June, Walgreen launched the Boots No 7 men’s product line in more than 5,000 stores, which is in addition to the successful No 7 women’s skincare line. With its new partnership with AmerisourceBergen, Walgreen will begin new deliver models to optimize frequency and improve local assortments.

Walgreen is positioning itself for long-term growth by creating a better experience with a clear three-point plan. The company will adjust its pricing and promotion throughout Q4, focus on maximizing the value of its Balanced Rewards program and enhance its store segmentation to better serve the local needs.

Competition

Walgreen continues to win back Express Scripts’ customers and gain more new Medicare Part-D customers, as demonstrated by a 7.1% increase in its retail comp scripts.

CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS), the largest integrated pharmacy company in United States and one of Walgreen's major rivals, is targeting compound growth rates of 5% to 8% on the top line and 7% to flat performance in adjusted EPS for the five-year period ending 2015. CVS Caremark is improving its accessibility and lowering its overall healthcare costs to align with the direction in which healthcare is headed. CVS Caremark also expects to retain at least 60% of the 24 million gained scripts due to the Walgreen-Express Scripts dispute.

Another smaller rival, Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD), continues to push its wellness store initiative forward to better serve local communities. Rite Aid is offering a special wellness65+ program to strengthen its relationship with seniors to ride the increasing aging trend. Rite Aid, which has just delivered three consecutive quarters of profits, continues to strengthen its financial position. It continues to carry out a well-defined strategy while gaining more financial leverage to support its turnaround. Rite Aid also expects to retain about 75% of those new scripts gained from the Walgreen-Express Scripts incident.

Bottom line

While Walgreen is slowly gaining back some of its lost customers from CVS Caremark and Rite Aid due to the Express Scripts dispute, the company is now stepping up with a stronger promotion and pricing strategy, as well as leveraging its Balanced Rewards program. In the near term, Walgreen will be facing margin issues; however, it is well positioned for long-term growth with its new partnerships.

With the upcoming landscape changes due to healthcare reform, Walgreen and CVS Caremark are well positioned to benefit from these policy changes. With the recent pullback, it is a good time to review and establish long-term positions for both Walgreen and CVS Caremark.

The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for this year. Find out which stock it is in the special free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2013." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.


Nick Chiu has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure