Pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ: WBA) reported earnings this morning. The numbers weren’t pretty. With expectations of $1.17 per share, the Dow Jones stock earned just 83 cents for the quarter ended May 31st.
Even worse, the company reported losses of 61 to 65 cents per share in pandemic-related costs.
The biggest hit came from the United Kingdom. Stay-at-home orders led to a staggering 85% drop in sales, even though its stores stayed open as an essential business.
Things aren’t looking up now that economic activity is resuming. Going forward, earnings will suffer from higher supply-chain costs. Other pandemic-related expenses – such as increased store cleanings – will drive down profit margins further.
The news was enough to send shares of the company, a core component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), down nearly 10% in afternoon trading.
On the plus side, the company reported a 3% rise in sales at U.S. stores. Management said online sales started topping numbers usually only seen on Black Friday.
While this slight uptick in U.S. sales gives bulls a silver lining, the results may be worse than they initially appear. Consider the fundamentals. This is a retail chain that was open during the worst of the pandemic-driven lockdowns, and it specializes in the types of staples that saw demand spikes.
The company couldn’t have been positioned much better to weather the crisis, but it still posted a quarterly loss. And it’s reporting that lingering fallout from the pandemic will eat into profits for years.
That’s a huge warning sign for the stock market.
Nearly half of all S&P 500 companies have pulled guidance entirely . That’s a big enough list to ensure that isn’t some isolated sector of the economy.
The entire market is in trouble, and investors are flying blind.
Most companies will have pandemic-related costs that will impact the bottom line akin to Walgreens, possibly for the foreseeable future.
If a company positioned to handle the crisis this year ended up doing this poorly, the stock market faces a genuine risk of retesting its March lows.
Investors should prepare themselves accordingly and rethink stocks that looked like a source of relative safety during the pandemic, particularly if they rely on in-person shopping.
Earnings and profit margins will almost certainly remain depressed through the end of the year – and likely into 2021. The stock market hasn’t priced in this reality yet; it will eventually.