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Walgreen Company (WAG), CVS Caremark Corporation (CVS): David Einhorn Bets on a Rite Aid Corporation (RAD) Turnaround

Hedge fund manager David Einhorn looks to be betting on Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD)‘s resurgence. In the second quarter, Einhorn’s fund, Greenlight Capital, bought up 20.2 million shares of the drugstore.

Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) has been on a steady upswing all year, and Einhorn’s Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) trade is almost assuredly profitable. Year-to-date, shares of Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) are up more than 158%, and further upside is possible.

Pharmacies have been a great investment
But it isn’t just Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) that has rewarded shareholders. The company’s competitors, Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG) and CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE:CVS) have outperformed the S&P 500 this year.


Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG) shares are up nearly 32%, while CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE:CVS) has rallied more than 21% in 2013.

Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG) has actually outperformed Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) from a financial standpoint. In July, Walgreen’s same-store sales rose 6.3%, while Rite Aid’s increased just 1.3%.

Yet, Rite Aid shares have been able to outperform Walgreen because of the inherent risks. Last December, Rite Aid was literally a penny stock, dropping below $1 per share — there had even been rumblings of a bankruptcy.

With nearly $6 billion in debt, about twice the firm’s market cap, Rite Aid is far more leveraged than its competitors.

Reasons to remain bullish
There are reasons to like the pharmacy stocks going forward. Most notably, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.

The law should have the effect of driving demand for pharmaceuticals, which could benefit the bottom line’s of all three companies. With the expansion of Medicaid, there will be more customers for these companies to sell to.

Analysts at UBS upgraded Walgreen back in March based partly on this increased demand. At the same time, CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE:CVS) has said it sees the ACA as an opportunity and plans to promote the law’s new coverage options to the uninsured.

However, Rite Aid’s management has remained conservative. On the company’s last earnings call, Rite Aid’s CEO called the roll out of the ACA a “fairly murky picture” and noted that the size of the addressable population isn’t particularly clear.

But even without the ACA, the aging baby boomer population could also support the sector. As CVS’ CEO has said, 10,000 new baby boomers are becoming eligible for Medicare every single day.

But which stock is the best?
Of the three stocks, Rite Aid clearly carries the greatest risk. Its leverage and its (until recently) poor financial performance make it a dangerous stock to own.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs have consistently raised their price target on the stock, but have kept a neutral rating. In June, they said the stock’s powerful rally made it difficult to buy shares. But if you had listened to Goldman, you would have missed out on a further 20% rally.

As the recent rally indicates, Rite Aid’s risk also carries the potential for greater returns. Even trading at a multi-year high, Rite Aid remains the cheapest of the stocks — its price-to-earnings ratio of 14.5 is much less than both CVS’ (17.4) and Walgreen’s (21.4).

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