Walgreen 1Q profit drops on Express Scripts fight

Wed, 12/21/2011 - 8:45am
MARLEY SEAMAN - AP Health Writer - Associated Press

Walgreen's first-quarter earnings fell more than 4 percent due in part to a slow flu season and its split with the Express Scripts pharmacy network.

A three-year contract between the companies ends at the end of 2011. Since June, Walgreen and Express Scripts have said they were preparing to stop doing business. Walgreen gets $5.3 billion in annual revenue from Express Scripts, but the Deerfield, Ill., company has said it would rather give that up than continue filling unprofitable prescriptions.

President and CEO Greg Wasson said that the company had made one last attempt last week to come to terms with Express Scripts, but the two sides were unable to resolve their differences over the rates that Express Scripts pays to fill prescriptions.

Walgreen remains open to another offer, Wasson said.

Unless the companies strike a last-minute deal, most people whose prescription drug benefits are handled by Express Scripts won't be able to fill their prescriptions at Walgreen stores, starting in January. Express Scripts clients include WellPoint Inc., which is the largest U.S. health insurer based on membership, and TriCare, the health plan that serves military members and their families.

Walgreen is the biggest drugstore chain in the U.S. with 7,812 locations.

Shares of Walgreen fell $1.29, or 3.9 percent, to $32.21 in afternoon trading while the broader markets edged down less than 1 percent.

The decision to stop doing business with Express Scripts cost a penny per share in sales at pharmacies open at least a year, and a penny per share in expenses during the first quarter.

The company took the same hit from the lack of a traditional cough, cold and flu season. Walgreen administered 5 million flu shots through Nov. 30 compared with 5.6 million a year ago.

Net income fell to $554 million, or 63 cents per share, from $580 million, or 62 cents per share, a year ago, when it had more shares outstanding. Revenue grew 4.7 percent to $18.16 billion.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected, on average, earnings of 67 cents per share and $18.24 billion in revenue.

In the wake of the Express Scripts stalemate, Walgreen is trying to hold on to as many prescriptions as possible by making its own arrangements with companies and health plans. Based on prescriptions Walgreen is filling in December and other trends, the company says it expects to keep between 97 percent and 99 percent of its 2011 prescription volume. Analysts estimate that Walgreen will lose most of the Express Scripts prescriptions and say the split will also hurt sales of other products, since fewer shoppers would be coming to Walgreen stores.

Express Scripts also is trying to buy Medco Health Solutions Inc., another large pharmacy benefits manager. If that deal goes through, Walgreen may lose Medco's clients over time.

First-quarter selling, general and administrative expenses climbed 5 percent to $4.2 billion because of its acquisition of and issues.

Earlier this month, Walgreen said sales at stores open at least a year grew 2.5 percent during the quarter. However the Express Scripts fight reduced those sales by 1.1 percent. Sales at stores open at least a year are considered a key measurement of retailer health because they exclude results from stores that have opened or closed in the last year.


Tom Murphy contributed to this story from Indianapolis.


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