Boots and Walgreens
A new prescription
Two huge pharmacy chains become even bigger
OTHER American executives may be fretting about Europe.
Not so Greg Wasson, the chief executive of Walgreens, America's biggest pharmacy chain.
On June 19th his firm said it would buy 45% of Alliance Boots, Europe's largest player in the drugs-distribution business.
And the $6.7 billion bid is only the first half of a bigger deal.
If all goes as planned, Walgreens will pay about $9.5 billion for the rest of Alliance Boots within three years—creating what the bosses of both firms call the first global pharmacy-led health and well-being enterprise.
The merged firm will indeed be more global than any pharmacy chain before.
Walgreens has 8,000 stores in America, with sales of $72 billion in fiscal 2011.
Alliance Boots is a giant in Europe and beyond.
The firm, which generated sales of 25 billion in fiscal 2011, operates in more than 25 countries and has more than 3,000 pharmacies.
Together, Walgreens and Alliance Boots will be the world's biggest buyer of prescription drugs.
For Walgreens, the deal follows a fitful year.
A spat with Express Scripts, which manages drug costs for employers, meant that Express Scripts' customers had to fill their prescriptions elsewhere.
和管理雇主药品成本的Express Scripts公司分道扬镳，意味着Express Scripts的顾客需要在其他公司购买处方药。
Sales in the most recent quarter were 3.4% lower than in the same period last year, and the number of prescriptions filled dropped by 8.4%.
Although too big to be considered a direct response to these problems, the deal with Alliance Boots gives Walgreens a path to growth after this rough patch.
As for Boots, it is best known for its ubiquity in Britain.
In 2006 it merged with Alliance UniChem, a European drugs wholesaler and distributor.
One year later Stefano Pessina, the firm's executive chairman, and KKR, a private-equity firm, took the company private.
The leveraged buy-out, which was worth 11.1 billion, remains Europe's biggest.
The deal with Walgreens fulfils Mr Pessina's ambition to bring Boots to America.
The country's drugs market is the world's biggest and has formidable established pharmacy chains, including, in addition to Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid.
It would be suicide to come in and compete with these guys, Mr Pessina told your correspondent in May. Now he does not have to.
The benefits of the merger are many, at least according to Messrs Wasson and Pessina.
They say that they will use their combined expertise and strength to streamline distribution and squeeze discounts from generic drugmakers.
Boots will be able to sell its products, such as the No7 beauty line, at Walgreens' American stores.
Walgreens, meanwhile, will benefit from Boots's product-development teams and global reach.
Even without additional deals, the merged firm hopes to reach revenues of $130 billion by 2016, with about one-third coming from operations outside the United States.
Not everybody is convinced.
It is hardly an opportune time to invest in Europe, sceptics say.
Walgreens's share price dipped by 5.9% on the day of the announcement.
Standard & Poor's, a ratings agency, worries about the debt Walgreens will shoulder.
In the first stage of the deal the firm will assume $3.5 billion;
in the second stage it will take on the rest of Alliance Boots's outstanding debt, which amounted to more than 7 billion in March.
The debate about the merits of the deal is likely to go on for some time.
Yet there is already one clear winner.
KKR invested 1.2 billion in 2007.
In the first stage of the Walgreens deal, KKR will receive 1.2 billion and 140m in shares.
If the full acquisition proceeds as expected, the American firm will more than double its money—not bad for an investment framed by a financial collapse and the euro crisis.