Walgreens, Rite Aid to create drugstore giant

Customers walk toward a Walgreens store in Boston in 2014.
Customers walk toward a Walgreens store in Boston in 2014. AP

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. agreed to acquire Rite Aid Corp. for $9.42 billion in cash, creating a company with nearly 18,000 stores around the world and further expanding the company’s role in the distribution of medications in the United States.

The deal comes less than a year after Walgreens bought European health and beauty retailer Alliance Boots. Besides its namesake stores, Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens also owns Duane Reade stores in the U.S.

Walgreens said it will pay $9 for each share of Rite Aid Corp. That’s a 48 percent premium to Rite Aid’s closing price of $6.08 Monday. Shares of both companies jumped Tuesday after The Wall Street Journal first reported the deal.

The companies said the deal is worth $17.2 billion, when debt is included.

Rite Aid stores will initially keep their name after the deal closes, Walgreens said, but that may change over time. The deal is expected to close in the second half of next year.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. has more than 13,100 stores around the world, and is the largest U.S. drugstore chain. Rite Aid has more than 4,600 stores in the U.S.

The transaction will add to Walgreens’ earnings after the deal has been complete for a full year, the companies said Tuesday in a statement. Including debt, the deal is valued at $17.2 billion, they said.

Rite Aid shares fell 6.3 percent to $8.12 in extended trading after the deal was announced, reflecting speculation that the deal will face antitrust scrutiny. They had risen as high as $8.74 earlier after the Wall Street Journal reported the companies were close to a deal. The stock had slumped 29 percent since Sept. 16 after the company lowered profit and revenue forecasts for the year, giving Walgreens a potential opportunity to make an offer.

Speculation that Walgreens would pursue Rite Aid rose to a crescendo in March after billionaire Stefano Pessina, who took over in January as interim chief executive officer at Walgreens after it acquired Alliance Boots, said he envisioned doing his next big deal in the U.S.

In addition to expanding its drugstore locations, the Rite Aid deal gives Walgreens its first foray into the business of managing drug benefits for insurers and employers, an area where rival CVS Health Corp. is a leader. Rite Aid entered that business by acquiring Envision Pharmaceutical Services Inc. for about $2 billion this year.

Shares of drug distributor McKesson Corp. dropped 4.2 percent, while AmerisourceBergen Corp., Walgreens’ distribution partner for medications, jumped 4.2 percent. Rite Aid represents about $18 billion of McKesson’s revenue, according to Evercore ISI.

While Pessina had made clear his appetite for deals, he had been cagey about what kind of acquisition he might pursue. He has said only that the company wanted to participate in what he saw as the inevitable consolidation of the long distribution chain that delivers drugs from manufacturers to patients in the U.S.

Walgreens already has a foothold in the drug-distribution business after it signed a 10-year agreement with AmerisourceBergen in 2013 and became the company’s third-largest shareholder.

Tuesday’s Walgreens was built by acquisition. Pessina developed Bern, Switzerland-based Alliance Boots GmbH into a powerhouse through more than three decades of mergers before selling it to Walgreen Co. last year. He’s now the company’s largest shareholder with a 13 percent stake.

Walgreens is scheduled to report fiscal fourth-quarter results Wednesday morning.

Reports from Bloomberg and The Associated Press were compiled in this report.