Rite Aid’s Troubled Past

Rite Aid’s financial position has sent index funds running, earned junk ratings for its billions in debt and undermined its ability to invest in its store base, leading to inefficiency and stagnant market share. There is a glimmer of hope in improved sales trends over the past year and a resulting improvement in share price.

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Whether Rite Aid can take advantage of strong secular trends in the drugstore industry is still an open question. As competitors ride the generic drug wave and cater to an aging population with greater health needs, Rite Aid is playing catch up.

The company’s current doldrums originate in a major accounting scandal more than a decade ago that led to a $1.6 billion restatement and sent several executives to jail, including former CEO Martin Grass. As the son of Rite Aid’s founder, Grass asserted his authority through risky new business ventures and, eventually, fraudulent transactions.

But even after new management cleaned up the books, Rite Aid courted disaster again in 2007 with the debt-funded acquisition of 2,700 stores in the Brooks and Eckerd drug chains, which resulted in a debt to equity ratio of 3.5x. Soon after the deal, Rite Aid’s equity position went into deficit because of a

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$1.8 billion goodwill write-off required by the poor performance of its acquired assets.

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Today Rite Aid’s management is trying to dig out of that hole, but investors question whether the current sales initiatives are enough to drive a sustainable turnaround.