Walgreens December sales reported against an Express Scripts backdrop

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens on Thursday reported an approximate 150 basis-point negative impact on prescriptions filled based on prescription transfers, and other trend analysis of prescriptions managed by Express Scripts, as the chain posted its first monthly earnings statement following the discontinuation of Walgreens' relationship with Express Scripts. That represents an increase from a 110 basis-point impact in November, but falls short of the 200 basis-point impact projected by Credit Suisse research analyst Ed Kelly earlier this week.

Walgreens stock closed Wednesday at $32.83, down 18 cents for the day.

Now that Walgreens officially no longer is part of Express Scripts network, all earnings likely will be scrutinized through an Express Scripts lense. Greg Wasson, Walgreens president and CEO, earlier this week spoke with DSN editor Rob Eder regarding what happens next in an exclusive interview.

"Many of those [Express Scripts] patients and members have had the choice taken away from them to use the pharmacist they've trusted for years," Wasson told DSN. Walgreens is presently working on two fronts in an attempt to retain those patients — with the patients themselves in offering a significant discount to its Walgreens Prescription Savings Club, normally priced at $20 annually, through January. On the other front, employers and payers, "we have already been able to secure about 10 million prescriptions from the ESI book of business," Wasson said. "And we have clients notifying us daily that they have found a way to continue to use Walgreens within their contract and/or have switched PBMs." To date, between 120 and 130 clients have found a way to keep Walgreens in-network, Wasson reported.

Prescriptions filled at comparable stores dropped 60 basis points in December. In addition to the Express Scripts impact, calendar day shifts in December, which had one additional Saturday and one fewer Wednesday, compared with December 2010, negatively impacted prescriptions filled in comparable stores by 190 basis points and lower incidence of flu negatively impacted comparable prescriptions filled by 150 basis points.

Total prescriptions filled were flat in the month, compared with a year ago.

Walgreens posted December sales of $7 billion, an increase of 2.7% as compared with the same month in fiscal 2011. Sales across comparable stores were relatively flat with a 0.4% lift.

Total front-end sales increased 1.4%, while comparable store front-end sales increased 0.6%. Customer traffic in comparable stores was down 60 basis points though basket size was up 1.2%.

December pharmacy sales increased 2%, while comparable pharmacy sales increased 0.2%. Calendar day shifts negatively impacted pharmacy sales in comparable stores by 190 basis points. Walgreens also attributed a 190 basis-point negative impact to generic drug introductions in the last 12 months and a 180 basis-point negative impact to lower incidence of cough, cold and flu.

Pharmacy sales accounted for 58.4% of total sales for the month.

Flu shots administered at pharmacies and clinics season-to-date were 5.3 million versus 6 million last year.