News that struggling drugstore chain Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD) has selected a new CEO wasn’t the change shareholders were hoping for, if the recent RAD stock price plunge is any indication. Shares have fallen more than 20% since the 12th of August, when the company announced Heyward Donigan would be replacing John Standley as CEO, effective immediately.
Of course, poor performance may have been in the cards anyway. Rite Aid stock has been losing ground since the beginning of 2017, when Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA) first started to waffle on its plans to acquire the struggling company. By early 2018, the deal was pared back to only 1932 stores, and a price tag of only $3.6 billion.
It’s not enough cash for the company, now only 2500 stores strong, to buy its way out of the trouble it found itself in a few years back. Thank the competition from bigger CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) as well as Walgreens for that.
New leadership sometimes breathes new life into an old company though. In that light, Donigan’s placement may well mark a turning point for Rite Aid, and by extension, for RAD stock.
On the other hand, the crux of Rite Aid’s woes aren’t particularly elusive. The company lacks the scale Walgreens and CVS Health now enjoy, further exacerbating the fact that the drugstore chain has to spend too much for too little.
Rite Aid Needs to Think Bigger
It’s not from a lack of trying that Rite Aid has been unable to dig its way out of trouble. If nothing else, it has willingly been creative.
Case in point: In June, it allowed Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) to establish parcel pickup lockers in 100 stores, with plans to offer online shopping deliveries at 1500 stores by the end of the year. That added foot traffic might lead more consumers into Rite Aid stores, where they just might make a separate purchase. The company is also testing telehealth options.
The growth prospects of such initiatives are modest. Amazon’s package pickup program may only draw a handful of additional consumers into any given store on any given day. Meanwhile, CVS plans to open actual medical clinics within 1500 of its 6200 stores by 2021 … an arguably better option than a virtual doctor’s visit.
Ergo, Rite Aid’s biggest problem — the aforementioned lack of scale — remains a big problem. That is, it’s not selling enough goods at the right price to adequately pay its bills. Selling stores to rival Walgreens rather than fixing those locales may have ultimately worsened the problem.
Quantitative information affirms the qualitative idea.
RAD Stock by the Numbers
It’s curious. On a gross margin basis, Rite Aid outperforms or at least mirrors its rival pharmacy chains. In other words, the difference between its cost of merchandise and its retail price of that merchandise sold is as it should be.
Where Rite Aid falls oddly short is in span between the income statement’s gross profit figure and its EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxed and depreciation) figure. The pharmacy chain is only converting about half the revenue into earnings that its chief rivals are. The company’s EBITDA rate, as a percentage of sales, are consistently less than half.
There’s only one key line between those two numbers on an income statement, by the way … selling and general/administrative expenses. Rite Aid’s are considerably more than CVS Health’s, and notably higher than Walgreens’. While the differences may look and feel modest for other types of industries, in the retailing arena where margins tend to be thin, the differentials are significant.
Donigan’s first task may be simply to figure out where that SG&A money is going.
Some cost-cutting on that front may be able to restore an ever-shrinking cash flow that has limited the company’s capacity to invest in its own growth. In fact, after years of steady declines, the company’s operating cash flow has turned negative as of 2019.
Bottom Line for RAD Stock
Easier said than done, to be fair. Some expenses are static and don’t scale. Advertising expenses, for instance, cost from one organization to another regardless of how many stores are benefitting from those ads.
Also bear in mind that Rite Aid operates a pharmacy benefits management outfit, and CVS is now teamed up with health insurer Aetna. The margin profiles described above aren’t perfect apples-to-apples comparisons.
These companies are akin enough to take note of the surprisingly wide scope of EBITDA margin and administration spending disparities. They’re more alike than different and the numbers should be closer together.
Only time will tell if patient owners of RAD stock will eventually be rewarded for that patience, just as only time will tell if Heyward Donigan will accept the fact that her company is smaller than its rivals, and must adjust accordingly where she can.
There’s little doubt, however, as to where and how Rite Aid is missing an opportunity. And the RAD stock price rebound may struggle to last until costs are curbed, even if culling those costs makes things tough.
As of the time of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. To learn more about James, visit his site at jamesbrumley.com, or follow him on twitter at @jbrumley.