In economic news, minutes released from the Federal Reserve's June monetary policy meeting showed that officials wanted to take a wait-and-see approach to raising interest rates given lackluster job growth trends. The Brexit vote that recently sparked major market volatility occurred after that meeting and likely only added to the central bank's cautious outlook. That's why investors' expectations for multiple rate hikes this year are declining.
Walgreens' revenue ticks higher
Walgreens shares declined in the wake of the pharmacy titan's fiscal third-quarter earnings report. Profit plunged by 15% to $1.1 billion on account of a sharp drop in the value of the company's stock investment in Amerisource Bergen (NYSE: ABC). Adjusting out that paper loss, though, left Walgreens with a solid 15% increase in profits. Sales ticked up by 2% thanks mainly to steady growth in its U.S. pharmacy business. Comparable-store sales rose 3.9% for a slight uptick over the prior quarter's pace. "We delivered solid results in the quarter," CEO Stefano Pessina said in a press release.
Walgreens' pending acquisition of Rite Aid is moving along as planned, executives explained, and should close before the end of the year. The acquisition will result in a spiking debt load that should start showing up in its next quarterly release. The retailer just took on $6 billion of debt to help fund the purchase, retire a piece of Rite Aid's debt, and pay transaction fees and expenses.
In the meantime, Walgreens sees slightly higher adjusted profits in its future. Full-year earnings are projected to weigh in at $4.50 per share, up from the $4.45 per share it had targeted three months back.
MSC Industrial's improving profitability
Metalworking and maintenance product specialist MSC Industrial saw its stock rise after posting quarterly earnings results. Sales were pressured by a rough operating environment, falling 2% to $728 million, which met the low end of management's guidance. Yet cost cuts and strict pricing discipline yielded a surprising jump in profitability: MSC's operating margin rose to 14.5% of sales from 14%. As a result, the company enjoyed a slight increase in net income despite what CEO Erik Gershwind called a challenging economic environment that "grew even more difficult" through the quarter.
Other bright spots of the results included a doubling of free cash flow to $251 million and steady gross profit margin of 45% of sales. These wins only produced a slight uptick in earnings this quarter, but they lay the foundation for potentially strong gains ahead. "We are poised for earnings leverage when growth returns," Gershwind predicted.
Executives forecast $736 million of sales for the current quarter, which is lower than consensus estimates that were holding out for $758 million. The stock's boost on Wednesday suggests investors were willing to accept that slightly slower growth pace if it continues to come with market share gains, improving profit margins, and free cash flow.