Disruption may be coming for the healthcare industry, but Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. (WBA) isn't concerned — it's doubling down on retail instead.
As its rival CVS Health Corp. (CVS) shifts away from the pharmacy retail model toward becoming a full-on healthcare service provider, critics have slammed Walgreens for failing to carve out its own path in that direction, especially when Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is inching in on the medical and pharmaceutical space. Walgreens' shares have dipped nearly 20% since the end of 2016. Walgreens' latest earnings report on Wednesday, March 28, however, showed that a pivot toward healthcare may not be necessary for the Deerfield, Ill.-based chain to satisfy investors — at least, not yet.
"There is much to do with or without a merger with a health plan, [and] with or without a merger with other players in this market," CEO Stefano Pessina said during the company's second-quarter earnings call Wednesday. "The main transformation will be to adapt the stores to work [for what] the future customer will require."
Some analysts say that a health acquisition — à la CVS with its $66 billion purchase of health insurer Aetna Inc. — should be a pressing matter for Walgreens. It posted an earnings per share of $1.73 versus the anticipated $1.55 in the quarter that ended Feb. 28, as well as a total sales figure of $33 billion — that's compared to the anticipated revenue of $32.2 billion.
"If they table healthcare for now, I don't see it as a concern as long as they invest in other things," Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told TheStreet following the earnings release.
In fact, he added, focusing on retail might be the safer bet: "When you look at it in the long term, healthcare will be disrupted by Amazon, whereas retail has already been disrupted and the big players are now adjusting. There's an attractiveness to the stability of retail."
Walgreens' solid second-quarter performance was boosted by its acquisition of nearly 2,000 Rite Aid stores. The $4.4 billion deal closed at the end of the quarter. With a much larger physical footprint, the chain has a chance to improve the shopping experience for customers, Saunders said. "The day-to-day part of its business is a lot more important than people think."
That's not to say, nonetheless, that Walgreens is closed off to future M&As.
"They have their hands full in the foreseeable future, but you've seen with this management team that there always seems to be another deal around the corner," said Pivotal Research Group analyst Ajay Jain, pointing to its consideration of purchasing drug distributor AmerisourceBergen Corp. (ABC) . The deal fell through last month, according to multiple reports.
"I don't know if they need to do a health-oriented acquisition as an issue of necessity," Jain added, "specifically as it relates to the Amazon threats."
So far, Amazon's only explicit foray into healthcare is a partnership with certain medical equipment suppliers, as well as an alliance with JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Berkshire Hathway Inc. (BRK.A) to form a healthcare alternative for their respective employees.
Walgreens shares were up 2.5% at market's close, trading at $67.59.