CVS executives knew that some of their sales would go up in smoke when they decided last year to stop selling cigarettes. The press release announcing that all 7,600 CVS stores nationwide would stop selling all tobacco products acknowledged that sales would take a hit. Still, the company said, “This is the right thing to do.”
The costs of the decision are now becoming clear. CVS Health’s general merchandise sales slumped 7.8 percent last quarter on a same-store basis, the company said Tuesday. The company claims non-pharmacy sales would have stayed the same if tobacco sales — and the other products cigarette buyers added to their baskets — were removed from sales figures for the same quarter in 2014.
Same-store sales in the pharmacy category climbed 4.1 percent, boosting overall same-store sales growth to 0.5 percent compared with the second quarter of last year, down from a 1.2 percent year-over-year increase the previous quarter. Net revenue overall grew by 7.4 percent to $37.2 billion, helped by pharmacy services revenue that surged 11.9 percent ($2.6 billion) to $24.4 billion. The company has reportedly increased its market share in the health and beauty categories (it did, however, narrow its full-year earnings forecast).
So even as the move to drop cigarettes has cost the company, its bet on health as the source of future growth may be starting to pay off. CVS stock dropped in the wake of its earnings announcement, but shares are still up more than 15 percent on the year and 44 percent over the past 12 months.
“The U.S. economy is running at its full potential for the first time in a decade, a new milestone for an expansion now in its ninth year,” The Wall Street Journal reports. But the milestone was reached, in part, because the Congressional Budget Office has, over the last 10 years, downgraded its estimate of the economy’s potential output. “Some economists think more slack remains in the job market than October’s 4.1% unemployment rate would suggest. Also, economic output is still well below its potential level based on estimates produced a decade ago by the CBO.”
The New York Times editorial board took to Twitter Wednesday “to urge the Senate to reject a tax bill that hurts the middle class & the nation's fiscal health.”
Using the hashtag #thetaxbillshurts, the NYT Opinion account posted phone numbers for Sens. Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, James Lankford, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Jerry Moran. It urged readers to call the senators and encourage them to oppose the bill.
In an editorial published Tuesday night, the Times wrote that “Republican senators have a choice. They can follow the will of their donors and vote to take money from the middle class and give it to the wealthiest people in the world. Or they can vote no, to protect the public and the financial health of the government.”
President Trump met with members of the Senate Finance Committee Monday and is scheduled to attend Senate Republicans’ weekly policy lunch and make a personal push for the tax plan on Tuesday. Will he be a more effective salesman than surrogates in his administration?
Politico’s Annie Karni and Eliana Johnson report that both Democrats and Republicans say Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn have repeatedly botched their tax pitches, “in part due to their own backgrounds” as wealthy Goldman Sachs alums. “House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this month asked the White House not to send Mnuchin to the Hill to talk with Republican lawmakers about the bill, according to two people familiar with the discussions — though Ryan has praised the Treasury secretary’s ability to improve the legislation itself,” Karni and Johnson write.
President Trump repeated his call Monday to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate as part of the tax bill. In a tweet — geotagged from Pennsylvania, not the Philippines , where Trump currently is — Trump added that the billions in savings from ending the mandate should be used to cut the top marginal rate to 35 percent and the rest on cuts for the middle class.
The Congressional Budget Office said last week that eliminating the mandate would save $338 billion over the next decade.
The current version of the House tax bill keeps the top individual income tax rate at 39.6 percent, while the Senate bill lowers it to 38.5 percent. However, mandate repeal is not currently part of either tax bill, and, as The New York Times notes, “repeal of the individual mandate was not on the list of 355 amendments that the [Senate Finance Committee] released on Sunday night.”
The Tax Policy Center’s William G. Gale writes that the GOP’s approach to the tax bill combines a $5.8 trillion tax cut with a $4.3 trillion tax increase to offset the costs. There may have been an easier way. “What if the House GOP simply tried to cut business and individual taxes by $1.5 trillion. No offsets needed. They could have distributed small tax cuts to middle-income individuals by, say, modestly expanding the earned income tax credit and raising the standard deduction. And they could have trimmed the top corporate tax rate by a few percentage points. It would not have been base-broadening tax reform, but neither is the current bill. ... Tax reform is never easy, but crafting the bill this way has vastly increased the challenge of passing it.”