WAG's latest moves offer brighter outlook on Wall Street

To the skepticism of many, Walgreens last year made a big global splash with its two-step merger deal with Alliance Boots across the pond. But with the announcement that the co-joined Walgreens/Alliance Boots had signed a 10-year distribution deal with wholesaler AmerisourceBergen, that included an equity stake to boot, well, it seemed that many analysts on Wall Street finally got it. With the ability to source and distribute generics globally and with the kind of buying clout generated by the joined forces of Walgreens, Alliance Boots and AmerisourceBergen, it's a good bet these companies will reward shareholders with greater returns over the long haul.

Walgreens' shares were up 12.3% to $47.66 per share in the three weeks following the March 19 announcement of the AmerisourceBergen deal; AmerisourceBergen's shares were up 9% to $52.63 per share.

"While not a game changing deal in terms of earnings, the agreement reduces [Walgreens'] distribution costs, enhances the synergy potential of its purchasing [joint venture] with Alliance Boots [and] streamlines its supply chain," Credit Suisse analyst Ed Kelly, who remains "neutral" on Walgreens' stock, reported in a research note following the deal. "This looks to be a good strategic move. … While we have not been fans of some of the decisions at Walgreens over the last couple years, … the outlook beyond the second half looks to be improving."

As the entire world wrestles with the common problems of paying for health care, Walgreens emerges as the biggest buyer of generic drugs in the world, positioned to be the lowest-cost provider with the biggest profits to show for it.

$13 billion — that's the collective estimated generic drug purchasing power Walgreens now has, according to Lazard Capital Markets estimates. This compares to around $8 billion for McKesson, as much as $6 billion for CVS Care-mark and around $5 billion for Cardinal.

But purchasing power isn't the only synergy. The real opportunity remains in expansion opportunities in those markets where generics are still underutilized, which is just about everywhere else in the world. And it's not just an opportunity for Walgreens; it's also an opportunity for Walgreens' pharma partners, who are actively looking beyond the U.S. market for growth opportunities.

For example, the Walgreens/Alliance Boots combination can go a long way toward improving compliance and adherence on a global scale, if the companies can clear the operational hurdle of disparate healthcare markets. A 5% improvement in patient adherence could be worth as much to a drug maker in one year as a brand-new blockbuster drug launch, and without any of the research and development costs.

Buying clout, healthcare cost savings and improved adherence for pharma partners — those are the collective advantages Walgreens has been creating with its reach overseas. Finally, Wall Street is beginning to reward it for that.


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