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So McKesson has a wide protective moat, which includes the distinct possibility that Amazon’s adventure into drug distribution could lead to miserable failure. Here’s why:

  1. Amazon cannot match McKesson’s buying power or negotiating power when it comes to generics. Current Amazon sales of pharmaceuticals are somewhere between zero and slightly above zero. McKesson’s sales are pushing $210 billion, about $65 billion of which comes from generics.
  2. Walmart is the fourth-largest pharmacy in the U.S., with sales of $20 billion. It had distributed drugs, but in 2016 it signed a distribution deal with McKesson. Walmart realized it could get better prices for generics through McKesson. Amazon, with near-zero sales, doesn’t stand a chance.
  3. Amazon has no structural advantage. In the fight againstrnes & Noble and Best Buy, Amazon could charge lower prices than brick-and-mortar retailers because it had a structural advantage — it did not own stores and have all the extra costs associated with them. On one of his conference calls, McKesson CEO John Hammergren said his company was Amazon before Amazon was Amazon. Indeed. McKesson has highly specialized warehouses designed to distribute drugs. It can get any drug to any pharmacy in the U.S. within hours.
  4. McKesson’s pretax margins are just 1.7%. If Amazon is looking to cut fat in the pharmaceutical industry, this is not where the fat is.
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