Update on Walgreens Boots Alliance deal

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Since the global financial crisis, mega dealmaking has gone out of fashion but could now be making a comeback with Stefano Pessina’s planned leveraged buyout of Walgreens Boots Alliance, described as potentially the “largest private equity deal on record”, according to the UK Financial Times. Days after it emerged that Walgreens Boots Alliance had held preliminary talks with private equity groups regarding a potential US$70bn deal to go private, shares in the US-based company rose again on reports that KKR had made a formal approach.

Pessina has a 16% stake in the company and already teamed up with KKR to take Alliance Boots private in 2007, though this time there is a far more challenging amount of debt to be raised in the high-yield bond market, which will be a test of market appetite for a deal of this magnitude. Nicholas Hall commented: “Last week I wrote about the possibility of WBA’s delisting from the stock market and going private: “The general view is that this deal is just too big; and yet, and yet!” Seems I was right to be cautious about writing off what might be Stefano Pessina’s magnificent swansong and the world’s largest private equity deal.”

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Walgreens Boots Alliance is the global leader in the retail pharmacy sector, operating just under 20,000 stores in 11 countries and recording revenues of US$136.9bn in the year to end-August 2019. WBA’s US retail pharmacy business accounts for 76% of this total, but operating income has declined by 20.5% owing to drug reimbursement pressures and increased competition from Walmart and Amazon. In addition, WBA’s international retail pharmacy business reported weak growth owing to a “challenging UK market”. According to a report in Forbes, the advantage of going private would be a chance to arrest the decline in WBA’s share price, down nearly 10% this year, as the deal would take the company away from the public eye and could make it easier to focus more on pharmacy point-of-care services.

Separately, under an agreement with Mitra Adiperkasa (MAP), a leading lifestyle retailer in Indonesia, WBA is to create a Boots branded pharmacy-led, health & beauty retail business in one of the world’s most populous countries. The first stores are expected to open in H2 2020. “Boots is a great addition to our diversified brand portfolio, which will help MAP further unleash the power of its 360° retailing strategy,” said Group CEO, VP Sharma. “We are confident that the combination of Boots cutting-edge products together with MAP’s solid competitive advantages will elevate the unique Boots experience to a whole new level in Indonesia.”

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