Healthcare Business

Starboard Value Stake Momentarily Shakes Up CVS

A report Monday in the Wall Street Journal put a bit of air under shares of CVS Health Corp. (NYSE: CVS). The drugstore, pharmacy benefits manager, and health insurer has had some rough sledding since last year’s acquisition of health insurer Aetna for nearly $70 billion.

A nod in CVS’s direction by activist investment firm Starboard Value LP lifted shares by about 1.4% on Monday. In CVS’s defense, it had, on its own, regained most of the 30% or so it had dropped since the Aetna acquisition. But a loss of around 5% doesn’t match up very well with a year-to-date gain of more than 14.5% for the S&P 500.

Starboard’s exact stake in CVS is unreported, but it is believed to be relatively small. The WSJ also reported that Starboard has held discussions described as “amicable” with CVS.

Monday’s announcement that eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) had sold its Stub Hub ticketing business for $4.05 billion is just the latest of a number of changes that Starboard’s activism gets at least some credit for. Starboard fails sometimes, too, as with its attempt to get Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE: BMY) to walk away from its $74 billion acquisition of Celgene, a deal that was just completed last week.

Analysts have been concerned by the long-term care liabilities that CVS took on with its Aetna acquisition. Long-term care cash reserve requirements are one of the biggest overhangs facing General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) as it tries to get its house back in order. At the end of its most recent quarter, CVS reported health care costs payable of just over $7 billion.

Rising costs in CVS’s Omnicare long-term care pharmacy business had also kept analysts from lifting their outlooks on the stock, but of 26ratings listed by MarketWatch, the equivalent of 19 are Buy with the rest at Hold. There are no Sell ratings.

What could Starboard be discussing with CVS? One possibility is the CVS plan to build out MinuteClinic walk-in medical clinics at more of its 9,900 locations. The clinics already operate at about 1,100 CVS stores. CVS reports MinuteClinic results in the same bucket in which it reports its long-term pharmacy care business and its online and onsite pharmacies. A little more transparency about where exactly the revenues and profits are coming from would be welcome.

CVS stock traded down about 1.4% in the noon hour Tuesday, at $75.50, unchanged compared with its closing price last Friday. The stock’s 52-week range is $51.72 to $81.65 and the 12-month consensus price target is $78.35.