Drugstore chain CVS will be able to pay back the money borrowed for its $69 billion takeover of health-insurer Aetna sooner than expected, thanks to a GOP tax break that's yielding an extra $1.2 billion in cash for the pharmacy chain this year.
At least half that money, or about $600 million, will be used for debt repayment, Chief Financial Officer David Denton told investors after the Woonsocket, R.I.-based company reported fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday. That, coupled with a freeze on dividend hikes and suspension of stock-buybacks, will help return the prescription-drug distributor to a leverage ratio of 3.5 within two years of completing the Aetna purchase, he said.
"We have a degree of financial flexibility that is unexpected," Denton said.
CVS is financing the deal with existing cash and $45 billion of new debt, executives said, which will take its debt-earnings ratio to 4.6 in the short term. The transaction, which would give the combined companies a stronger competitive edge and deliver as much as $750 million in cost savings in the near future, is still awaiting regulatory approval, and the U.S. Justice Department requested more information on it last week.
The deal has roughly 70 percent odds of approval, estimated Credit Suisse analyst A.J. Rice.
Along with paying back borrowed money, CVS said it would invest some of its tax savings in data analytics and enhanced services in stores as well as raise the starting rate for employees 22 percent to $11 an hour. The pay rates for other retail workers will also be adjusted to ensure the company's salary structure stays competitive, CVS said.
By boosting employe pay, the chain joins companies from lender JPMorgan Chase to drugmaker Pfizer that have used portions of the benefits from a GOP-led tax overhaul to reward their workers. The tax law, passed in December, cuts the top corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and eliminates levies on overseas assets brought to the U.S. after a one-time payment.
CVS's tax rate should drop to about 27 percent this year and will be a "recurring benefit to the business," Denton said. "The investments we are making will also be recurring."
Excluding fourth-quarter benefits from the tax bill and other one-time items, earnings rose to $1.92 a share, topping the $1.89 average estimate from analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue climbed 5.3 percent to $48.4 billion.