The economic outlook for 2009 looks grim. The Wall Street Journal’s October survey of economic forecasts puts the odds of recession at 89% and forecast negative
So what, if anything, does this mean for overall sales at drug stores in 2009?
Based on the historical evidence … not much.
I looked at year-over-year changes in quarterly retail sales at Pharmacies and Drug Stores (NAICS 44611) as collected by the Bureau of the Census. These government-collected data provide the most complete picture of revenues at all drug stores, not just the big public companies. Note that these data exclude non-pharmacy dependent retail formats, such as supermarkets or mass merchants, and also combine prescription and front-end sales.
I compared these data to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (
The chart above also illuminates the sharp slowdown in year-over-year growth at drug stores that began in early 2007, which was well before the recession started. I think this trend reflects more fundamental industry forces at work, such as a lack of new blockbusters and rising generic utilization rates (which reduces revenue but boosts profits). The nature of health care products also implies limited sensitivity to a downturn.
A further piece of evidence comes from same-store sales at major retailers. (See Consolidated Summary of Sept Retail Sales Results.) Twenty-eight of 36 major retailers had negative same-store sales growth in September. Who was up?
- Discounters: Wal-Mart (WMT), Costco (COST), BJ's Wholesale (BJ)
- Drug Stores: Walgreens (WAG), Rite-Aid (RAD), Fred's (FRED)
Do these facts “prove” that drug store revenues will hold up in 2009? No, of course not. The future could look quite different than the past.
But as Mark Twain said: “History does not repeat itself. But it rhymes.”