After news broke that Credit Suisse was reiterating an outperform recommendation on shares of Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD) with an expected price target of $8.50, shares of the country's third-largest drugstore chain popped up nearly 5%. With Rite Aid's shares trading at $8.12, 210% above their 52-week low of $2.62, is now actually a time to be selling and buying rivals like Walgreen (NASDAQ:WBA) or CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS)? Or is there still room to run on this turnaround story?
Mr. Market has high expectations for Rite Aid!
Over the past few years, Rite Aid has been something of a mixed bag. Between 2009 and 2013, the company's revenue fell almost 1% from $25.67 billion to $25.53 billion; a wave of store closures has been, more or less, canceled out by improving comparable-store sales.
At first glance, this performance may just seem mediocre instead of terrible. But when you consider that Walgreen's revenue has risen 14% from $63.3 billion to $72.2 billion during its most recent five-year period, Rite Aid suddenly looks bad. CVS' metrics have come in even better. Over the past five years, the company's sales have popped up 29% from $98.2 billion to approximately $126.8 billion.
From a revenue perspective, Rite Aid can't even come close to matching its peers. However, it's not sales that have shareholders excited; it's the company's rise in profits. While revenue for the retailer has decreased a bit, management's cost-cutting initiatives have pushed the company's net loss of $506.7 million to a gain of $249.4 million. This improvement in profitability has been due, in part, to lower interest expenses and impairment charges but has also stemmed from declines in the company's core costs in relation to sales.
During its five most recent fiscal years, Walgreen's net income has also risen to the tune of 22% from approximately $2 billion to $2.4 billion. At almost double the pace of the company's revenue jump, this may seem appealing. However, when you consider that the largest contributor to the business' higher profits in 2013 came from an investment in Alliance Boots as opposed to an improved operating margin, its performance isn't as impressive. Over this time frame, CVS' net income increased 24% from $3.7 billion to about $4.6 billion as higher sales were offset by marginally higher costs.
Rite Aid's getting better, but is it cheap enough?
In its report, Credit Suisse said that it expects the company's results to be somewhat choppy in the near term but that growth should start taking off in 2015 and 2016. This, combined with Rite Aid's return to profitability, could signal a brighter future for the company. But is it possible that investors getting in now are paying too much for the company?
Using its most recent year's earnings per share of $0.23, shares of Rite Aid are current trading at a price/earnings (P/E) ratio of 35. Assuming that analysts are accurate and the business earns $0.39 per share this year, then investors are still paying a hefty 21 times earnings for shares in the drugstore chain.
|(P/E Ratio)||2013's EPS||2014's Forecast EPS|
Right now, Rite Aid's valuation is richer than either of its larger rivals. Using 2013's earnings, shares of CVS can be bought for about 21 times earnings, while Walgreen comes in a little pricier at 27 times. Looking instead at analysts estimates for 2014, CVS can be purchased for 17 times earnings, while Walgreen is just a tad more expensive at 20 times.
Despite its rather bumpy history, Rite Aid seems to be slowly digging itself out from the rut it's found itself in. While this has come at the cost of lower sales, management made the right choice by focusing on reducing costs and turning out a profit.
Once the company begins to grow again, the potential for its shareholders could be explosive. But the fact that shares are still trading at a premium to Walgreen and especially CVS should remind investors that an investment in the business isn't necessarily a slam dunk. In fact, for investors looking for something cheaper, now may be the time to consider taking money off the table from Rite Aid and allocating it to Walgreen or CVS.
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Daniel Jones has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends CVS Caremark. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.