Hurricane outlook above normal for 2007
This year’s hurricane season already has produced three named storms, even though none have whipped themselves up to hurricane strength or made landfall. for the remainder of the season, which starts in June and ends in November, such experts as Bill Kirk, chief executive officer at WeatherTrends International, conservatively have projected as many as nine additional named storms to come out of the Atlantic. Weather events are named once a cyclone or “eye” forms.
According to WeatherTrends International, wet weather in Africa this year and above normal water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean will steer the greatest threats for a land-falling hurricane to the Caribbean, Mexico, South Texas and Alabama. A colder than normal central Atlantic should reduce the threat of land-falling hurricanes along the East Coast.
As of the end of July, however, with three named storms, the 2007 season is ahead of schedule, according to the National Hurricane Center—the third tropical storm of the year typically forms around Aug. 12.
Experts at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in May projected a 75 percent chance that the Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal this year—continuing an era of above-normal hurricane seasons that started in 1995. “For the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA scientists predict 13 to 17 named storms, with seven to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher,” stated retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. An average Atlantic hurricane season brings 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, including two major hurricanes.
Last year, hurricane predictions proved to be too high when an unexpected El Niño weather patten rapidly developed and created a hostile environment for Atlantic storms to form and strengthen. An El Niño is a weak, warm current appearing annually around Christmas along the coast of Ecuador and Peru.
In contrast to El Niño, La Niña refers to an anomaly of unusually cold sea surface temperatures found in the eastern tropical Pacific that help power tropical storms.
NOAA had been predicting a strong La Niña for this year, and thereby a busy hurricane season. But it has yet to happen, Kirk said.
The most active months of any typical season are August, September and October—90 percent of named storms develop between Aug. 15 and Oct. 15.
Grocer sings new tune in community involvement
Meijer is taking another step in community relations, to the tune of promoting and selling CDs of local musicians.
The Michigan-based 176-unit grocery chain launched the Outside the Mainstream promotion in February with a solo CD from Josh Davis, a singer from Lansing, Mich., whose Fool Rooster CD was recognized by Performing Songwriter magazine for its lyric.
Each month, the chain is featuring a new performer in its circulars, which are sent weekly to 7 million households in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, according to company vice president of public affairs Stacie Behler. Meijer purchases 1,000 of the artist’s CDs and offers them for sale in all the chain’s stores for $7.49.
“The goal of the program is to bring some of the talent that we find in our own backyards to a wider audience than they can normally reach by themselves,” Behler said. “And by supporting this with a low price and a feature in our circular, hopefully it will lead people to gamble on the purchase of music that is worthy of discovery.”
Meijer, according to Behler, is trying to create regional loyalty to its stores by promoting local talent.
CDs chosen for promotion, according to the chain, must have a UPC and be professionally duplicated. Submitted CDs are sorted according to state and chosen on the basis of whatever state will be featured that month and how different the music is from the previous month.
Featured in April is Michigan-based Potato Moon with its CD “The Life of The Lonely Jones.”
CVS wins Caremark battles
WOONSOCKET, R.I. —The battle for Caremark Rx has finally come to an end. And, to the dismay of Express Scripts, CVS has emerged the winner, creating a $75 billion pharmacy benefit management powerhouse that is likely to serve as a benchmark for additional mergers within the industry.
“CVS/Caremark will offer end-to-end services, from plan design to prescription fulfillment, as well as the opportunity to improve clinical outcomes, which will result in better control over health care costs for employers and plan providers,” stated Tom Ryan, president and chief executive officer of CVS/Caremark, late last month when the deal closed. “The company will improve the delivery of pharmacy services and health care decision-making, enabling consumers to benefit from unparalleled access, greater convenience and more choice.”
With the close of the transaction—ultimately valued at $27 billion—CVS/Caremark has moved into a strong, competitive position. The combined company will be No. 1 in pharmacy sales, PBM-managed lives, specialty pharmacy sales and retail-based health clinics. It will be No. 2 in mail services.
That adds up to a lot of extra leverage for the retail health care juggernaut with suppliers, as well as insurers and payers.
In terms of synergies, CVS expects to realize between $800 million to $1 billion in revenue synergies in 2008, and significantly more thereafter. The company expects about $500 million in cost savings, largely related to better purchasing.
“We would like to note that every deal that both CVS and Caremark have done historically has yielded synergies significantly in excess of original guidance,” stated Citigroup analyst Deborah Weinswig in a recent research note. “We believe this deal will be no exception.”
Charles Boorady, also of Citigroup, believes that if the company achieves cost savings from the drug-procurement process, it likely will come from a combination of the following: manufacturers accepting the lower price or offering greater rebates, the wholesalers and distributors accepting lower prices and manufacturers bypassing the wholesalers and selling directly to the combined CVS/Caremark entity.
While many industry observers view the merger as a boon for the companies, it undoubtedly will have major implications on the industry, in general, as vertical integration is a new paradigm that—if successful—could clear the way for more mergers moving forward, with Medco and Express Scripts likely being the next targets.
“The fragmentation in the past may be the reason why vertical integration did not work, but the sheer scale of the CVS/Caremark company may be able to make it work,” Boorady said. “The only test will be whether customers buy into the concept or the concerns over the perceived channel conflict will outweigh it.”
Either way, Boorady sees it as a win-win for rival PBMs. “I see Medco and Express Scripts winning either way. If this integration works, they are likely to be the ones that are acquired next. If it doesn’t work then they could stand to gain customers that prefer a standalone [PBM] instead of a vertically integrated model.”
Another issue such a deal brings to the forefront is network restriction. If customers are willing to restrict the retail pharmacy so that employees can get their prescriptions filled at a single chain, or just a few chains in the market, then it will make the synergy from a vertical integration more obvious, according to Boorady.
However, this has been a concern for several years and has yet to materialize.
“I think most employers have concluded, and will continue to conclude, that the sheer hassle factor that you are putting on your employees by making them go to a CVS instead of a Walgreens, or vice versa, isn’t really worth what little savings you can get relative to other things you can do that present less of a hassle to the employee but can save a lot more money,” Boorady said.
However, prior to the deal, CVS Pharmacare controlled a provider network of more than 56,000 retail pharmacies. Meanwhile, Caremark’s network numbered more than 60,000 retail pharmacies, so it is unlikely that the combined company, post-merger, would suddenly pull back the size of its network—particularly, if the end goal is to remain attractive to insurers and payers and competitive with stand-alone PBMs.
According to William Blair & Co. analyst Mark Miller, the combined company is facing its first big test as it expects an announcement on the large Federal Employee Program contract—currently up for negotiation—as early as May. Three years ago, Caremark won this contract from Medco and it is likely that the two PBMs, among others, will bid for this business aggressively.
“While there are many moving parts to these types of negotiations, this will be the first big test for the new CVS/Caremark, and may provide some incremental perspective on the current state of the competitive environment,” Miller stated in a research note.
In related news, CVS/Caremark has announced the members of the company’s board of directors. As previously disclosed, the 14-member board was evenly split among designees from CVS and Caremark.
Former Caremark chairman and chief executive officer Mac Crawford has been elected chairman of the board of the combined company. Ryan will continue to serve as president and chief executive officer.
The following individuals named to the board from CVS are:
Ryan, president and chief executive officer of CVS/Caremark Corp.
David W. Dorman, senior advisor and partner, Warburg Pincus LLC.
Marian L. Heard, president and chief executive officer, Oxen Hill Partners.
William H. Joyce, chairman and chief executive officer, Nalco Co.
Terrence Murray, former chairman and chief executive officer, FleetBoston Financial Corp.
Sheli Z. Rosenberg, former vice chairman, president and chief executive officer, Equity Group Investments LLC.
Richard J. Swift, former chairman, president and chief executive officer, Foster Wheeler Ltd.
The following individuals named to the board from Caremark are:
Mac Crawford, chairman of CVS/Caremark Corp.
Edwin M. Banks, founder, Washington Corner Capital Management LLC.
C. David Brown II, chairman, Broad and Cassel.
Kristen E. Gibney Williams, former executive of Caremark’s Prescription Benefits Management division.
Roger L. Headrick, managing general partner, HMCH Ventures; president and chief executive officer, ProtaTek International
Jean-Pierre Millon, former president and chief executive officer, PCS Health Systems
C.A. Lance Piccolo, chief executive officer of HealthPic Consultants