Express Scripts (ESRX) is now managing drug benefits for more than 100 million Americans, including probably you.
Express Scripts is America's largest pharmacy benefits manager (PBM), a field that's booming and rewarding investors, as government and private entities increasingly strive to contain drug costs.
Drug prices were a contentious issue during the 2016 presidential campaign and will likely to remain so, especially as the GOP-led Congress struggles to come up with a way to repeal Obamacare that doesn't stoke health care inflation.
PBMs fill about two-thirds of prescriptions in the U.S., of which Express Scripts fills more than 1.4 billion annually. As a PBM, Express Scripts contracts with big employers, government agencies and large insurers to manage these organizations' drug benefits programs and to lower the costs.
The company doesn't have stores of its own, so it cuts deals with the major drug chains and independents. In today's cost-conscious drug pricing environment, it's a thriving business model, as reflected by Express Scripts' latest operating results.
Express Scripts on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter earnings of $1.43 billion, for adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.88 per share. EPS was up 21% compared to the same quarter a year ago. The results exceeded average analyst expectations for EPS of 1.87 per share.
For the full-year 2016, the company reported earnings of $3.4 billion, or EPS of $5.39, a year-over-year increase of 51%. The company expects full-year 2017 EPS in the range of $6.82 to $7.02 per share, which would represent growth of 8% compared to the previous year.
For the first quarter of 2017, management expects EPS to come within the range of $1.30 to $1.34, which represents growth of 7% to 10% over the first quarter of 2016.
Express Scripts' competitors include Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA - Get Report) and CVS Health (CVS - Get Report) . Express Scripts is more of a pure play on PBM growth. The company also wins out on valuation. Its 12-month price-to-earnings ratio is only 15.7, compared to 22.23 for WBA, 16.09 for CVS, and 32.2 for its overall industry.
Year to date, Express Scripts shares have risen 1.61%. Shares now trade at about $69.80. The average analyst expectation for a one-year price target is $81, which is a gain of more than 16%.
Pharmaceutical price control is an entrenched trend that's largely immune to the ups and downs of the broader economy, making Express Scripts a stable growth stock in a year that's expected to witness a correction.
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