In 1901, Charles Walgreen opened up his first drugstore in Illinois.
Today, Walgreens Boots Alliance(WBA) - Get Report operates more than 8,000 locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. That represents a store growth rate of 8.1% over 115 years, and the company still has plenty room for growth.
Walgreens Boots Alliance is a so-called inevitable business because it serves a vital need: filling prescriptions.
The company's many locations and trusted brand name make it one of the two dominant players in the North American drugstore market, the other being CVS Health.
Walgreens Boots Alliance has a strong and durable competitive advantage in the drugstore industry. This is exemplified by its 41 consecutive years of dividend growth.
The company's impressive dividend history makes it one of 50 Dividend Aristocrats, stocks that have paid dividends for 25-plus consecutive years.
Walgreens Boots Alliance has a reasonable adjusted price-earnings ratio of 18.7, solid growth prospects, a strong competitive advantage and a long history of raising its dividend payments. These factors help Walgreens Boots Alliance rank as a Top 10 dividend stocks using The 8 Rules of Dividend Investing.
One of the company's biggest growth spurts occurred because of an unlikely time: the prohibition. Walgreens Boots Alliance skirted prohibition laws by selling "medicinal" alcohol, which required a prescription from a doctor.
As demonstrated by the explosive growth of medical marijuana, there is no shortage of doctors willing to prescribe medicinal products that will give patients a buzz as a side effect.
There is an interesting parallel these days, and it isn't medical marijuana). CVS stopped selling cigarettes in 2014.
Walgreens Boots Alliance, perhaps because of its corporate history, has made no such move. The company has no issue with selling unhealthy products alongside its pharmaceutical business and is focused on growth, for better or worse.
The company's growth in recent years has been driven by the acquisition of Boots Alliance. In 2012, Walgreens acquired 45% of the European drugstore and distributor, and in 2014, Walgreens acquired the remaining 55%.
The acquisition has helped Walgreens increase earnings of $2.53 a share in 2012 to $3.88 a share last year, a 53% increase.
The company has realized more than $1 billion in synergies from the acquisition to date, and it continues to pay off. Walgreens Boots Alliance realized 15.7% adjusted earnings-per-share growth in its most recent quarter, versus a year earlier.
Future growth for Walgreens Boots Alliance will come from a mix of organic growth and acquisitions.
The company plans to acquireRite Aid for $17 billion. The deal is expected to pass regulatory approval.
Rite Aid is the third-largest drugstore chain in the U.S. The acquisition will increase Walgreens Boots Alliance's store count by about 50% to more than 12,000 locations.
Walgreens Boots Alliance has compounded its earnings per share at 9.8% a year over the past decade. The company's management has proven its ability to identify and acquire businesses that meaningfully increase Walgreen Boots Alliance's bottom line.
The pending Rite Aid acquisition is the latest example of management's acquisitions.
Walgreens Boots Alliance looks poised to continue compounding EPS at about 10% a year. The company has a low payout ratio of just 34%.
As Walgreens Boots Alliance grows, its dividend payments look likely to grow faster than earnings. This has been the case historically, with dividends increaseing at 20% a year over the past decade.
Walgreens Boots Alliance has a strong and durable competitive advantage in the prescription/drugstore industry. The industry will likely continue to grow as the U.S. population continues to age.
The company's combination of a strong competitive advantage in a growing industry, large market share and an excellent management team make Walgreens Boots Alliance an inevitable dividend grower.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.