AmerisourceBergen, the giant Valley Forge drug wholesaler, says it will pay $6.5 billion for Walgreens Boots Alliance’s pharma distribution businesses in Britain and France, the fast-growing Turkey and Egypt markets, and other nations.
The deal to buy Walgreens’ Alliance Healthcare and its packaging, shipping, generic drug, and personal-care brands came with promises by AmerisourceBergen chief executive Steven Collis of rapid sales and profit growth ahead.
What will it mean for drug prices? “It contributes to the consolidation of an increasingly concentrated pharmaceutical supply chain,” with “a greater possibility of using this power to harm rivals” and prevent new competition, said Michael A. Carrier, an antitrust scholar at Rutgers Law School-Camden.
Carrier said the Republican-led Federal Trade Commission has lately voted to approve similar consolidations but could begin blocking them when Democrats next gain a majority on that panel. However, absent a resignation, Republicans will continue to control the FTC until the fall of 2023.
Wall Street liked the deal and what it could mean for corporate profits. AmerisourceBergen’s coming foray into 13 countries caused its stock to rise more than $8 a share, closing at $106.17, a rise of almost 9%.
Illinois-based Walgreens Boots Alliance shares were also up, closing at $43.03, up $1.87 or 4.5%, after the company said it would focus more on its 21,000 stores in the U.S. and 10 other countries. Walgreens stores have been contending with fewer customers and prescriptions during the pandemic.
The deal comes two months after AmerisourceBergen agreed to set aside $6.6 billion to settle accusations that the company helped drugmakers and rogue doctors flood the U.S. with opioid painkillers that fed lethal addictions in Philadelphia and across the country.
Given that big expense, “why does this [deal] make sense, for right now?” Steven Valiquette, an analyst at Barclays, asked Collis, in a conference call with investors.
“We are pursuing this acquisition from a position of strength,” Collis insisted. He noted that both companies had been busy during the COVID shutdowns ensuring patients stuck at home got their medicines.
The massive opioid settlement cost wiped out the company’s profits for last year. Still, the company has plenty of cash coming in, added chief financial officer James F. Cleary.
Indeed, company officials said they expect to begin paying down more of AmerisourceBegen’s debt once the acquisition is complete, and then boost dividend payments to shareholders.
AmerisourceBergen, based in Chesterbrook in Chester County, and its rivals McKesson and Cardinal Health Inc., control more than 80% of the U.S. wholesale drug market. They see a profitable future as they sell a new generation of high-priced drug therapies to more patients, and people in growing nations are able to spend more on health care.
Plus, COVID-19 restrictions that have kept shoppers off the streets have made the firms’ digital and automated drug tracking, routing, and shipping technologies more valuable in linking drug companies with customers, Collis told investors.
AmerisourceBergen sold $190 billion worth of drugs and other products and services last year, for which it paid drugmakers $185 billion. It spent $3 billion on wages, software, and other expenses, leaving $2 billion in profits from operations.
The company employs 22,000 at locations across the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and elsewhere, including 1,300 at its Chesterbrook offices and other area sites. It is building a new headquarters in Conshohocken.
The deal with United Kingdom-based Alliance excludes its operations in China, Germany, Italy, and other countries that Collis said weren’t compatible with his company’s business model.
Indeed, European countries have cut reimbursement rates and made it tough for drug companies to boost profits, noted Glen Santangelo, a drug analyst at Guggenheim Securities.
Still, Collis projected savings of $75 million a year by 2025 for AmerisourceBergen as a result of the deal, and similar savings at Walgreens Boots.
Questioned by analyst Eric Percher of Nephron Research, AmerisourceBergen officials wouldn’t detail what costs would be cut but stressed the opportunity to boost sales.