Thursday 26 June 2014

Walgreens-Boots, where next, when?

Walgreen Co, the largest U.S. drugstore operator, withdrew its profit and revenue forecasts for 2016 on Tuesday, saying it had yet to work out several aspects of its planned acquisition of European drug retailer Alliance Boots Holdings Ltd.

Walgreens, which bought 45% of Alliance Boots in 2012, and has an option to buy all of the Switzerland-based company in 2015, said it would update investors about the proposed purchase of the rest of the Europe's largest pharmacy chain owner and issue a new forecast by late July or early August. Combined synergies continue to generate savings albeit slightly lower than forecast, hence the withdrawal of the 2016 forecasts.

The real issue is the probability that Walgreens will respond to pressure from some shareholders to do a so-called "tax inversion" deal with Alliance Boots that would shift Illinois-based Walgreen's tax domicile overseas and reduce its tax bill. Their US tax rate is 36% and this would reduce to 21% if they transferred to Switzerland.

A possibility has to be consideration of availing of Ireland's tax rate of 12.5%.

However, to quote David McWilliams, the global ground has shifted and countries such as the US will not tolerate the wholesale looting of its corporate tax base and the countries that facilitate this behaviour.

This could mean that globally harmonized tax rates are on the way, but may take several years to implement.

Meanwhile, companies in Walgreens' position may choose to make a change sooner, rather than later.

For this reason, suppliers might usefully anticipate the possibility of Walgreens completing their acquisition of Boots earlier than the 2015 deadline... 

Time for NAMs to complete some what-ifs on a 2014 move, and act accordingly?

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