How Drugstores Can Make You Money With Change

These days, life is all about convenience. We want things to be accessible and affordable, and we want to save as much time as possible acquiring them. And the one area where consumers want all three is food. So what if one of the nation's largest drugstore chains was able to expand its food offerings and make picking up dinner as easy as going to your local drugstore down the block? That's exactly what Walgreen (NYSE: WAG  ) is planning to do.

Walgreen is one of the nation's largest drugstore chains. The company operates more than 8,600 drugstores in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. As a result, Walgreen certainly has the size and scale to put more food on its shelves.

During the fiscal first quarter, comparable-store sales rose 2.4%. This was on the back of only a 0.2% increase in traffic but a 2.2% increase in average basket size. A roll-out of more food items will increase the average basket size even further.

Prescription sales remain strong, growing 7.3% in the quarter. Earnings per share came in at $0.72, which was boosted $0.14 by the acquisition of competitor Alliance Boots. Walgreen expects Alliance Boots to add another $0.07 to $0.08 to EPS in the second quarter.

Walgreen remains the leader in the specialty-pharmacy business, ahead of CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS  ) . The specialty-pharmacy division focuses on services for managing complex and chronic health conditions. This will be a key growth driver for Walgreen with an aging population.

Walgreen is not only looking to offer more food as a convenience, but also banking services as well. The company just launched a prepaid debit card this year that will allow holders to cash checks and have paychecks directly deposited to a linked account. The plan is for consumers to start using Walgreen's locations as bank branches due to the convenience factor. While they're there, they can also pick up everyday items that they need.

Sixteen analysts have Walgreen rated as a buy or strong buy. In comparing Walgreen to CVS Caremark and Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD  ) , Walgreen trades at 15 times next year's earnings, which is lower than both CVS Caremark and Rite Aid. Walgreen also has the least amount of debt among the three, at approximately $5.1 billion, and has the highest dividend yield at 2.2%.

Rite Aid has been up more than 300% over the last 12 months. However, Rite Aid's great run could be coming to an end in 2014. The drugstore turned profitable for the first time in six years during 2013. However, it's now trading right in right inline with the two major pharmacy chains, but it doesn't offer a dividend. Rite Aid also only has 4,600 stores. Compare this to CVS' 7,400 locations and Walgreen's 8,500. 

Bottom line
Walgreen is changing the retail industry once again. It's been going head to head with CVS for a number of years; however, 2014 could be the year that Walgreen moves to the forefront of investors' radars.

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