Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (NASDAQ: WBA) reported its first fiscal quarter earnings on Wednesday, January 8 before the market opened. Its profits were harmed by increased competition from online and discount retailers, resulting in less prescriptions. Despite the slow start of 2020, the company hopes to be one of the rare survivals of the intense shakeout that is upon the pharmacy sector and is expected to wipe out thousands in the years to come.
Wall Street expected $34.6 billion in revenue and earnings per share of $1.41. And results fell short of expectations with revenue of $34.34 billion. Net profits declined sharply, 25 percent to be exact to $845 million for the period ended November 30th, 2019. Despite rumours that that the global pharmacy chain could be taken private in a massive leveraged buyout but Chief Executive, Stefano Pessina, didn't address this speculation but rather emphasized that the company is making a progress in reinventing new services and digitizing its drugstore chain.
The company is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in this reinvention while under a massive cost management program. And at least sales went up 1.6 percent. But the weak pharmacy spots cost its shares a consequent fall of 7 percent after the earnings report and even dragged those of rival CVS Health Corporation (NYSE: CVS) down 2 percent as investors are concerned that the pressures on reimbursement rates from insurers is likely to make further damage to profits.
The pharmacy and retail company ‘won' the award of worst performer for 2019 when it comes to Dow Jones Industrial Average. S&P gained 27% over the last 12 months whereas Walgreens fell 16 percent. During this everything but memorable fiscal year, Walgreens sales grew just 4% and earnings per shares were down from fiscal 2018.
Along with its rival CVS Health Corp., Walgreens is managing to help itself somewhat by benefiting from many closed up pharmacies and acquiring their customers and consequently, their prescriptions.
But, Walgreens itself has closed some of its stores as the company announced in August it will close an additional 200 stores to the already announced shutdown of 750 stores. But Walgreens' strategy is different to of its rival that aims to attract customers with lower cost personal care items and primary care services. Yet, Pessina is more than confident in Walgreens' strategic partnership approach, which most recently included expanding its relationship with The Kroger Co (NYSE: KR) in order to include a new group purchasing organisation and simply, cushion the impact from all those blows.
The two strong headwinds that have hampered the company—the falling reimbursement rates insurance companies pay for prescription drugs and the struggles of its retail business aren't going to change direction anytime soon. Giants known as insurers are pressuring pharmacies on margins and Amazon.com, Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN) along with many other digital competitors are already doing a great job in luring customers.
Surely, Walgreens cannot be saved by LED lighting that will save money, which was mentioned by one of its executives during the conference call, but long-term, maybe a very long and severe flu season can help Walgreens in turning its own sickness into health. Yet, Wall Street remains sceptical. Since news broke in November about a possible LBO, the pharmacy chain has now lost all the gains it made since then. One thing is for sure, whoever you are, if you are anywhere near being a pharmacy, it is a very difficult place to be at.
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