Walgreens stock plunge puts 'inversions' in spotlight

(USA TODAY) -- Walgreens' decision to keep its headquarters in the USA — and not the U.K. where it just inked a deal to acquire all of Alliance Boots and taxes are lower — was given a thumbs-down by Wall Street.

The decision, whether it was driven by patriotism, public relations considerations or other business reasons, did not go over well with bottom line-focused investors.

Shares of the nation's largest drugstore chain were down more than 15% in pre-market trading, on top of a drop of more than 4% Tuesday when its decision not to domicile its new entity abroad was first reported.

Walgreens' decision bucks a recent trend of so-called "inversion" transactions, where a U.S. corporation in search of tax relief reorganizes in another country that has lower corporate tax rates by merging or buying a foreign company. In the past decade there have been 47 U.S. companies that have done inversions, according to the Congressional Research Service. Such deals, such as the pending $55 billion acquisition of Ireland-based drug maker Shire by U.S.-based AbbVie, have come under increasing scrutiny.

The practice has come under withering criticism recently, with President Obama and members of Congress arguing that it hurts America by siphoning off much-needed tax revenue. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department announced that it was considering steps to limit the practice. The corporate tax rate in the USA is 35%, the highest among developed countries.

Such pressure could have a "chilling effect" on such deals moving forward.

In a statement early Wednesday announcing the terms of its deal to acquire the remaining 55% of Alliance Boots and its decision to base the company in Chicago, Walgreens admitted the controversy played into its deliberations and final decision to stay put in the USA.

"The company also was mindful of the ongoing public reaction to a potential inversion and Walgreens' unique role as an iconic American consumer retail company with a major portion of its revenues derived from government-funded reimbursement programs," said Greg Wasson, president, CEO and board member at Walgreens.

The company also said it doubted a move abroad would have been approved by the Internal Revenue Service.

Wall Street was expecting Walgreens to move its headquarters outside the USA to reduce its tax bill and boost its financial standing.

A headline in a Forbes.com story today sums up the market reaction to Walgreens decision: "Walgreen Disappoints Investors By Choosing America Over Tax Breaks, Shares Fall."


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