Express Scripts stock extends 52-week high

Saturday, March 5, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Shares of Express Scripts Inc., among the nation's largest pharmacy benefit managers, extended their 52-week high on Friday, courtesy of its expectations of a better-than-expected first quarter.

Shares of the suburban St. Louis-based company rose 32 cents to close at $84.82 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, having reached as high as $86.30 during the session. On Thursday, the shares soared $7.29, up 9.4 percent to a new one-year high.

In announcing that its fourth-quarter earnings had risen, Express Scripts said Wednesday that earnings for this year's first quarter should match or surpass the $1.07 per share earned in the last October-December period. Analysts expect first-quarter earnings of $1.04 per share in the quarter.

The company said it earned $80.9 million, or $1.07 per share, in the three-month period ending Dec. 31, given increased use of generics and consumer purchases of more drugs through the company's mail pharmacy services. That compared with $67.4 million, or 86 cents per share, the previous year.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expected earnings of $1.06 per share.

Revenue was $3.94 billion, up 13 percent from $3.49 billion largely due to the acquisition of CuraScript, increased use of prescription drugs and drug price inflation.

For the full year, Express Scripts earned $278.2 million, or $3.64 per share, on revenues of $15.11 billion. That compared with earnings of $249.6 million, or $3.21 per share, on revenues of $13.29 billion in 2003.

On the heels of the fourth-quarter earnings and rosy outlook for this year's first three months, Wachovia Securities upgraded the stock to "market perform" from "underperform."

Express Scripts said that it repurchased 2.4 million shares of stock for $176.1 million during the fourth quarter, bringing to 12.9 million shares the company has bought back under its share-repurchase effort.

Express Scripts' board recently increased approved a plan for the company to buy up to an additional 6.1 million shares.

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