Vaccinations, testing help lift business
DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens Boots Alliance beat Wall Street’s expectations for fourth quarter revenue and earnings, with COVID-19 vaccinations and tests boosting traffic and demand rising for cough-cold medications and vitamins.
Walgreens administered 13.5 million vaccines during the three months ended August 31 — almost double the 7 million it had expected to provide.
Adjusted earnings per share climbed 29.5 percent from the year-ago quarter to $1.17, topping analysts’ projection of $1.02. Revenue rose 12.8 percent to $34.26 billion, ahead of the forecast $33.30 billion.
“Our fourth quarter and fiscal year results exceeded expectations, driven by strong performance in our core business,” said chief executive officer Roz Brewer. “Comparable U.S. pharmacy and retail sales both saw robust growth and recovery continued in our UK business as COVID-19 restrictions eased in the quarter. I remain extremely proud of our team members’ unwavering commitment to meeting the needs of our patients, customers and communities. The role of the pharmacist and local pharmacy is now more vital than ever.”
Operating income increased 49.7 percent to $910 million. Adjusted operating income increased 22.9 percent on a reported currency basis to $1.2 billion, an increase of 22.1 percent on a constant currency basis. The increase reflects strong gross profit growth across pharmacy and retail in the United States and higher International segment sales and profitability due to strong operational performance and ongoing recovery in the UK.
Net earnings were $358 million, up 6.4 percent from the year-ago quarter, reflecting increased operating income in both segments. This was partially offset by higher tax provisions related to the enactment of the UK tax rate increase. Adjusted net earnings from continuing operations increased 29.6 percent to $1.0 billion, up 28.1 percent on a constant currency basis. EPS increased 6.4 percent to $0.41.
Net cash provided by operating activities was $1.2 billion and free cash flow was $867 million, an $808 million decrease compared with the year-ago quarter primarily due to the divestiture of the Alliance Healthcare business.
Fiscal 2021 sales from continuing operations increased 8.6 percent to $132.5 billion, up 7.5 percent on a constant currency basis.
Operating income in fiscal 2021 increased to $2.3 billion compared with $982 million in the year-ago period. This was partly driven by $2 billion non-cash impairment charges in the year-ago period. This was partially offset by a $1.5 billion charge from the company’s equity earnings in AmerisourceBergen in the first quarter. Adjusted operating income from continuing operations increased 8.2 percent on a reported basis to $5.1 billion, up 7.7 percent on a constant currency basis. The increase reflects strong adjusted gross profit growth across the United States and International segments, and cost savings from the Transformational Cost Management Program.
Net earnings from continuing operations were $2.0 billion, compared with $180 million in the year-ago period, reflecting non-cash impairment charges in the year-ago period, strong growth across both segments, and earnings from the company’s equity method investment related to Option Care Health, partially offset by a charge from the company’s equity earnings in AmerisourceBergen. Adjusted net earnings increased 12.8 percent to $4.3 billion, up 11.9 percent on a constant currency basis.
EPS for fiscal 2021 increased to $2.30, compared with $0.20 in the year-ago period. Adjusted EPS from continuing operations was $4.91, an increase of 14.6 percent on a reported basis and an increase of 13.7 percent on a constant currency basis.
Net cash provided by operating activities was $5.6 billion in fiscal 2021, an increase of $70 million from fiscal 2020, and free cash flow was $4.2 billion, an increase of $65 million.
In line with the company’s long-term capital policy to maintain a strong balance sheet and financial flexibility, WBA reduced its leverage by approximately $6.5 billion compared with the prior fiscal year end.
The United States segment had fourth quarter sales of $28.8 billion, up 6.6 percent. Comparable sales rose 8.1 percent.
Pharmacy sales increased 6.7 percent and comparable pharmacy sales increased 8.9 percent. Within comparable pharmacy sales, prescriptions filled in the fourth quarter increased 8.8 percent from a year earlier, including a positive impact of 485 basis points from COVID-19 vaccinations. Total prescriptions filled in the quarter increased 8.6 percent to 313 million, including immunizations, adjusted to 30-day equivalents.
Retail sales increased 6.5 percent and comparable retail sales increased 6.2 percent. Excluding tobacco and e-cigarettes, they increased 7.2 percent, reflecting broad based growth across all categories. In particular, health and wellness sales increased 14 percent aided by cough cold flu, at-home COVID-19 tests and vitamins.
Gross profit increased 14.9 percent. Adjusted gross profit increased 13.7 percent due to strong sales growth; improved pharmacy margin, aided by COVID-19 vaccinations partially offset by reimbursement; and favorable retail margin.
Selling, general and administrative expenses (SG&A) increased 12.9 percent. Adjusted SG&A increased 13.1 percent, driven by costs to support COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, and from higher growth investments, partially offset by savings from the Transformational Cost Management program.
Operating income in the fourth quarter increased 25.2 percent to $1.0 billion. Adjusted operating income increased 16.4 percent to $1.2 billion.
The International segment had fourth quarter sales of $5.5 billion, an increase of 61.8 percent, including a favorable currency impact of 9.2 percent. Sales increased 52.6 percent on a constant currency basis, including higher sales associated with the formation of company’s wholesale joint venture in Germany. Excluding this, International segment sales on a constant currency basis increased 9.3 percent, reflecting the ongoing recovery in the UK market, where COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on July 19.
Boots UK comparable pharmacy sales increased 11.4 percent, reflecting stronger demand for pharmacy services, notably COVID-19 tests.
Boots UK comparable retail sales increased 15 percent. Footfall on the high street recovered as lockdown measures were removed, although it remains below pre-COVID levels.
Boots.com continued to perform ahead of expectations, with digital sales in the fourth quarter more than doubling compared with pre-COVID levels.
Gross profit increased 43 percent, including a favorable currency impact of 10.4 percent. Adjusted gross profit increased 32.7 percent on a constant currency basis, reflecting strong growth in retail sales and pharmacy services.
SG&A in the quarter increased 19 percent to $1.2 billion, including an adverse currency impact of 8.2 percent, offset by lower costs associated with the Transformational Cost Management Program in the current year. Adjusted SG&A increased 17.3 percent on a constant currency basis, including higher adjusted SG&A associated with the formation of the wholesale joint venture in Germany.
Operating income, including a favorable currency impact of 6.1 percent, was $46 million compared with a loss of $130 million in the year-ago quarter. Adjusted operating income grew strongly on a constant currency basis to $140 million, an increase of $129 million from the year-ago quarter.