Pharmacy retail giant CVS Health (CVS 0.28%) recently reported solid fourth-quarter earnings results, in line with management's expectations. Revenue was up 11%, and adjusted earnings per share jumped 26.5% versus the year-ago period. However it's important to look beyond the headline numbers and analyze management's words on each quarterly conference call.
Here are five key takeaways from the most recent earnings call.
1. Customers love our Pharmacy Benefits Management business
CVS Health's PBM business offers services that help employers, governments, unions, and many other institutions rein in their pharmacy costs, and this division continues to be a great growth driver for the company.
Here's CEO Larry Merlo giving an update on the business:
Gross client wins for 2016 have increased, and they now stand at $14.8 billion with net new business at $12.7 billion. The increase in net new business of about $1.2 billion from our last update largely reflects incremental growth from our new health plan clients as they closed out their enrollment year.
He also noted that they added more than 9 million new members in January, and the company boasts a client retention rate of 98%. Management credited the huge uptick in member growth to their competitive pricing strategy and their ability to help their customers control costs.
2. Acquisition integrations are on schedule
CVS Health went on a spending spree in 2015. It paid $1.9 billion to acquire Target's (TGT -1.32%) pharmacy and clinic business and another $12.7 billion to acquire Omnicare, a provider of pharmacy services to long-term care facilities. Integrating acquisitions successfully is a notoriously difficult task, so management made sure to give investors an update on how both deals were progressing.
Here's CEO Merlo giving an update on the Target deal:
Now as for the Target pharmacy and clinic acquisition, our highly detailed integration plan is complete. The integration activities are under way and we have already successfully converted a handful of pilot stores. As a result, the conversions will begin to ramp up throughout this quarter and next and we expect to complete all store conversions by the end of summer.
He also confirmed that the increased buying power it gained from the Omnicare takeover should benefit the company in the near term:
In the first half of this year, we expect to achieve the benefits of purchasing synergies and by the end of the year, we will phase in technology to support high quality customer service and leverage best practices across the organization. We are combining operational infrastructures and developing programs to improve work streams and enhance delivery service and we expect to complete the vast majority of the Omnicare integration activities by year-end.
3. Retail stores are gaining market share
CVS Health's retail empire took a major leap forward in 2015 thanks in large part to the Target acquisition, ending the year with 9,600 retail pharmacies in its network. It also continues to make great strides with the rollout of its in-store clinic services -- 1,135 stores had a clinic on site.
In-store clinics are important because they help CVS Health to attract new customers to its stores. Pharmacy same-store sales increased 5% during the period -- an impressive result, especially when considering the 470 basis point drag from generic-drug introductions. Overall, CVS' market share ticked up to 65 basis points when compared to last year and now stands at 21.8%.
4. We will continue to return money to shareholders
CVS continues to use its ample cash resources to reward its long-term shareholders, as evidenced by its recent decision to increase its dividend by 21%. Management also confirmed that there is still plenty of room left for future increases as well. CVS' current payout ratio is slightly above 30%.
Here's CFO Jon Roberts discussing their capital return program:
We paid approximately $1.6 billion in dividends in 2015 and $391 million in the fourth quarter alone. Our strong earnings outlook this year, combined with a 21% increase in the dividend that we announced at our Analyst Day, keeps us well on track to achieve our targeted payout ratio of 35% by 2018.
CVS has also bought back $13 billion worth of its own stock over the last three years and has plans to buy back another $4 billion this year.
5. The good times will roll into 2016
With several growth drivers working in its favor, management believes net revenue growth will be at least 17% during 2016. However, it forecasts that its consolidated operating profit margin will decline slightly during the year, which means that its adjusted earnings per share will grow at a more moderate pace than revenue. In total, the company expects to produce adjusted earnings per share between $5.73 to $5.88, which reflects growth of at least 11% for the year.
Still, that's a solid growth rate for a $100 billion company, so I continue to believe that CVS Health is an attractive investment idea for investors looking to bulk up their healthcare exposure.