The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Walgreens, Express Script, Medco Health Solutions, CVS Caremark and Rite Aid - Press Releases

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For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL - December 30, 2011 - announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Walgreen s ( WAG ), Express Script ( ESRX ), Medco Health Solutions ( MHS ), CVS Caremark ( CVS ) and Rite Aid Corporation ( RAD ).

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Here are highlights from Thursday's Analyst Blog:

Earnings Scorecard: Walgreens

Subsequent to the announcement of Walgreens ' ( WAG ) first quarter 2012 (ended November 30) results on December 21, 2011, majority of the analysts have reduced their estimates for the forthcoming period.

Previous Quarter Highlights

Walgreens reported first quarter 2012 EPS of 63 cents, a penny higher than the year-ago quarter earnings but missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 67 cents. The result includes a negative impact of 1 cent per share related to the delay in the cough/cold and flu season, 1 cent in comparable pharmacy sales related to the non-renewal of the Express Script ( ESRX ) contract and 1 cent in related expenses.

Revenues rose 4.7% year over year to $18.2 billion and were in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Comparable store sales (those open for more than a year) during the quarter climbed 2.5% while front-end comparable drugstore sales spiked 2.4%. Customer traffic in comparable stores inched down 0.2% while basket size increased 2.6%. Walgreens expanded its retail pharmacy market share to 19.9%. The company opened/acquired 71 new drugstores (a net gain of 51 after relocations and closings) in the reported quarter compared with 121 (89) in the year-ago quarter.

For a full coverage on the earnings, read: Walgreens Disappoints in 1Q

Estimate Revision Trends

In accordance with the company's current decision of not associating itself with Express Scripts' pharmacy networks, the recent Zacks Consensus Estimate revision for the upcoming period reflects a negative bias.

Over the past 30 days, 11 of the 19 analysts covering the stock revised their estimates downward for the second quarter while only 2 analysts raised their estimates. The negative trend is also witnessed for fiscal 2012 with 18 of the 22 analysts shrinking their estimates and none increasing the same.

The bearish sentiment is primarily the reflection of the ongoing dispute between Walgreens and Express Script. With this move, effective January 1, 2012, Walgreens' 7,700 pharmacies will not be a part of Express Scripts' pharmacy provider network. As a result of that, the company will also forego its business with major clients like Tricare and WellPoint.

Although the company estimates that its client retention rate in 2012 will be in the range of 97%-99% of the fiscal 2011 prescription volume, the non-renewal of the contract is expected to hinder Walgreens' business and affect its position in the drug and health care delivery sector. Moreover, successful completion of the proposed Express Script and Medco Health Solutions ( MHS ) merger is expected to worsen the probability of full renewal of the Walgreens-Express Script contract.

The analysts are also concerned based on the present weak macroeconomic environment where the unemployment rate remains high at 8.9%, and food and gas prices are also on the rise. Increasing costs coupled with unemployment makes the customers more value driven. Consequently, spending on discretionary items is affected. We are of the opinion that this situation will impact same-store sales growth. The company also faces other headwinds such as pharmacy reimbursement pressure and front-end margin pressure, which can hinder gross margin expansion further.

However, the company expects gross margin to improve in the second half of fiscal 2012 based on new generic drug introductions, including generic Lipitor. We are also encouraged by Walgreens' several recent initiatives to maintain its leading position in providing flu shots and other immunizations. During the flu season this year, considered till November 30 2011, notwithstanding the volatility, timing and the severity of the cough/cold and flu season, the company administered 5 million flu shots compared with 5.6 million a year ago.

Another factor favoring Walgreens is its strong cash balance. Walgreens exited the first quarter of fiscal 2012 with $1.09 billion in cash and cash equivalents, compared with $2.06 billion at the end of November 2010. The company's cash flow trends continued to remain strong at the end of the quarter with $809 million of cash flow from operations versus $1.165 billion a year ago, primarily driven by the change in working capital.

Magnitude of Estimate Revisions

The magnitude of estimate revisions for fiscal 2012 has been significant. In the past 30 days, estimates for fiscal 2012 have deceased 10 cents to $2.73. However, for the current quarter, estimate has gone down by 4 cents in the past 30 days to 81 cents.

Our Recommendation

The company, however, is presently working on winning new contracts. Earlier this month, Chinese Community Health Plan (CCHP), whose prescription drug insurance was managed by Express Script, transformed itself into a new pharmacy benefits management ( PBM ) company in order to obtain the service of Walgreens pharmacies. Walgreens also entered into a new deal with Express Scripts to provide services to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City's prescription drug program (effective from January 2012).

Walgreens currently faces intense competition from major players like CVS Caremark ( CVS ) and Rite Aid Corporation ( RAD ). We are impressed with the company's efforts to establish itself as a leading provider of pharmacy, health and wellness solutions and are confident about the long-term potential of the company. Currently, we are Neutral on the stock, at par with CVS Caremark and Rite Aid.

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CVS CAREMARK CP ( CVS ): Free Stock Analysis Report

EXPRESS SCRIPTS ( ESRX ): Free Stock Analysis Report

MEDCO HLTH SOL ( MHS ): Free Stock Analysis Report

RITE AID CORP ( RAD ): Free Stock Analysis Report

WALGREEN CO (WAG): Free Stock Analysis Report

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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