Walgreens gives up on VillageMD, will sell to reduce stake below majority, closing underperforming stores, revising profit outlook– and in abandoning Boots sale, managing director James quits

Q3 results are in for Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) and it was largely a bummer, especially if you work for VillageMD. Their financials have taken a hit from crashing US consumer retail spending and the softening pharmacy business. Adjusted earnings per share (EPS) were $0.63, down 36.6% on a constant currency basis compared to Q3 last year. The full year guidance was lowered from Q2’s outlook of $3.20 to $3.35 EPS to $2.80 to $2.95, again citing US trends. Q3 sales were up 2.6% to $36.4 billion, up 2.5% versus last year. Release

Industry estimates are that fully one-quarter of Walgreens’ 8,700 US stores are being reviewed for performance and closure, based on industry estimates and Tim Wentworth’s remarks on the investor call last week. Healthcare Dive, FierceHealthcare

Mr. Market didn’t like the WBA news at all, dropping the share price from the call last week to today, closing at $11.58, its lowest level in years. Nine years ago, it traded just over $95 per share. Its consistently steady price and healthy dividend save the last couple of years gave it a broker nickname of a ‘widows and orphans’ stock.

The bad news for VillageMD is that it’s for sale. Walgreens plans to lower its ownership below a majority holding and not to grow that line of business, instead focusing on retail pharmacy. Lowering its ownership stake means it has to find a buyer or buyers for at least 14 points of its 63% share. And it’s been a money pit. It not only upped its share from about 30% to 63% in 2021 for $5.3 billion but subsidized the acquisition of Summit Health/CityMD by VillageMD in November 2022 for $8.9 billion ($3.5 billion from WBA). The rough calculation of $10 billion [TTA 28 Mar] spent under CEO Roz Brewer’s watch does make it a bit easier for CEO Tim Wentworth to slash away. 140 locations were closed by March with a total now estimated at 160.  

But where to find a buyer/investor? It won’t be Cigna. Last May, Cigna wrote off $1.8 billion of its 2022 $2.2 billion investment which gave it a ‘in the teens’ share [TTA 2 May]. WBA wrote it down as well; last quarter, a $12.4 billion non-cash impairment charge related to VillageMD goodwill netted a $5.8 billion writedown. It’s no moneymaker though its revenue this quarter grew 7%. An industry analyst estimated VillageMD’s 2023 losses at $800 million last April. Primary care is no longer a hot investment. Even mighty CVS is looking for a private equity investor in Oak Street Health, which implies that CVS doesn’t want to put more than the bare minimum into expanding OSH’s clinics [TTA 29 May].

This Editor’s own interesting take on an option. VillageMD’s new COO/president is a Centene ‘retiree’, Jim Miller. Previously, he had the same positions for two years at Magellan Health. He was there when it was acquired by Centene in 2022 and stayed on till retiring in April. Magellan’s holdings have largely been sold off since activist investor Politan stepped in [TTA 10 Apr]. Could it be that Miller may find investors to buy or spin it off and go private?

Shields Health not for sale and neither is Boots, which didn’t make the latter’s managing director happy. On the investor call, Wentworth also confirmed that specialty pharma operation Shields Health Solutions, bandied about as a sale candidate, will be retained. It grew 24% in Q3 versus year prior. Boots pharmacies in the UK will remain off the WBA selling block in another about-face. Right after last week’s investor call, Boots’ managing director Sebastian James announced his departure, effective in November (!) reportedly for a European eye surgery business. James had been with Boots as MD since 2018 and oversaw 13 consecutive quarters of market share growth including this one, with a 6% rise in UK comparable retail sales. It’s hard not to speculate that either James had lined up a buyer or he tired of the push me-pull you from management. Another factor that doesn’t inspire confidence. Morningstar UK

Wentworth continues to have a rough ride with some speculation as to why WBA continues to dig itself into a hole and when it will turn around.

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