Walmart, Not Amazon, May Turn Out To Be The Real Health Care Disruptor

https://www.investors.com/news/walmart-humana-amazon-disrupt-health-care/

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Every Amazon (AMZN) flirtation toward the health care industry has sent hearts racing on Wall Street. Yet Amazon appears to be having commitment issues, and others have leapt while Jeff Bezos hesitated. Now comes a possible Walmart (WMT)-Humana (HUM) merger. A Walmart acquisition of the insurer could fundamentally reshape health care delivery in ways that Amazon may have trouble matching.

A Walmart-Humana deal could potentially transform the health care market for seniors, a demographic that is critical for both companies.

Walmart already operates about 4,500 in-store pharmacies and 2,900 vision centers, but a Humana deal would likely accelerate its efforts in developing in-store clinics. The clinics haven’t been a knockout success, but Walmart has been learning, wrote Tracy Watts, U.S. health reform leader at Mercer, in a blog post. “This partnership could foster new ways to bring people what they want and need,” she wrote, highlighting health care access in rural areas.

CVS Health (CVS), which is in the process of acquiring Aetna (AET), is planning to revamp its drugstores to provide more health services. Walmart has greater financial wherewithal to execute the strategy and its supercenters may be a more natural fit for health services.

Strategic Merits For Walmart-Humana

A Walmart-Humana tie-up has strategic merits for the retail giant, wrote Stifel analyst Mark Astrachan. He expects it would drive greater store traffic and produce health care cost savings, helping the discounter to keep investing to fend off Amazon.

Savings would come from closer ties to Humana, the largest remaining independent pharmacy benefits manager. That would help to reduce drug prices for Walmart’s 1.5 million U.S. employees, Astrachan wrote.

Humana recently purchased a major stake in the home health care business of Kindred Healthcare, a natural fit for Walmart’s home delivery business.

Still, there would be challenges. Piper Jaffray analyst Sarah James sees hurdles to staffing up clinics amid a nursing shortage that’s pushing up wages. She also questioned how attractive a merger would be for Humana. Humana has an enviable Medicare position while Walmart has a smaller store base compared to CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA).

Still, Humana shares rose 4.4% on the stock market today, even as the Dow Jones, S&P 500 index and Nasdaq composite all lost about 2% or more. Meanwhile, shares of Walmart lost 3.8% and Amazon skidded 5.2%.

Amazon Threat Spurs Action

So far Amazon’s disruptive impact on health care has been all about what others are doing. Since reports last summer that Amazon might enter the retail prescription industry, the shockwaves have set in motion one deal after another. First it was CVS buying Aetna and beginning to offer same-day delivery in major markets, and next-day nationwide. Albertsons grabbed the Rite Aid (RAD) stores not bought by Walgreens. Last month, Cigna (CI) announced the purchase of Express Scripts (ESRX), the largest of the pharmacy benefit managers.

Options to enter the prescription drug business have narrowed for Amazon but haven’t been closed off entirely. One potential avenue would be acquiring Walgreens.

In January, Amazon announced a health care venture with JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB). Health care stocks tumbled amid fear that Amazon would use the same formula that slayed book sellers and department stores. The scariest part: The companies say they have no intent to earn a profit from the effort. Yet they also confessed to a lack of any coherent plan for putting still-to-be-formed cost-saving ideas to work.

 

 

Global M&A activity hits record high on mega US health care deals

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/04/global-ma-activity-hits-record-high-on-mega-us-health-care-deals.html

A CVS Pharmacy store is seen in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 30, 2017.

 

  • In the first three months of 2018, there were 3,774 deals globally, totaling $890.7 billion.
  • So far this year, there have been $393.9 billion invested in U.S. companies.
  • Domestic activity was also particularly strong in China.

Merger and acquisition (M&A) activity across the world has hit a seventeen-year-record high in the first quarter of 2018, according to a report by research firm Mergermarket.

In the first three months of 2018, there were 3,774 deals globally, totaling $890.7 billion, it said Wednesday. This was the strongest start to the year since 2001, when Mergermarket began recording the data, and represents an 18 percent increase in value compared to the first quarter of 2017.

“The extraordinary surge in dealmaking seen at the end of 2017 has carried through into 2018,” Jonathan Klonowski, research editor at Mergermarket said in the quarterly report, citing pressure from shareholders and a search for innovation as the main drivers.

“Amazon’s move into pharmaceuticals appears to have been a catalyst for dealmaking in health care-related areas with the CVS/Aetna deal announced in December and the Cigna/Express Scripts transaction this quarter,” he added.

Amazon announced a partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett in January to reduce health costs for U.S. employees. The move has sparked fears that the retail giant could enter and compete with traditional health care businesses. As result, the sector has consolidated to fight possible future competition from Amazon.

Cigna bought Express Scripts in a $54 billion cash-and-stock deal in early March. CVS also approved the acquisition of Aetna for about $69 billion in cash and stock last month.

Such deals have been particularly relevant in the U.S., where M&A activity during the first quarter of the year represented 44.2 percent of the total global share.

So far this year, there have been $393.9 billion invested in U.S. companies, according to the report. This represented a 26.1 percent increase from the same period a year ago. “Domestic dealmaking has been a key factor registering 952 deals worth $330.8 billion,” the report said.

But it’s not only U.S. companies that seem to be consolidating in their own market. Domestic activity was also particularly strong in China, where firms spent $68.7 billion — this was the highest first quarter on record.

“Domestic M&A accounts for 85.2 percent of Chinese acquisitions in Q1 (first quarter) 2018, a significant increase from the 61.6 percent and 71.3 percent seen during 2016 and 2017,” Mergermarket said.