Express Scripts to buy Medco for $29.1 billion

The top two U.S. companies managing prescription drug benefits are uniting in a $29.1 billion deal they say will help achieve key goals of the health care overhaul: reining in costs and improving patients’ health.

Express Scripts Inc. announced an agreement Thursday to buy larger rival Medco Health Solutions Inc. Together, they would handle the prescriptions of about 135 million people, more than one in three Americans.

That will give them even more clout in demanding discounts from drugmakers, who are dealing with falling or stagnant revenue as an unprecedented number of blockbuster drugs taken daily by millions is getting cheaper generic competition.

Pharmacy benefit managers process mail-order prescriptions and handle bills for prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies, acting as middlemen between employers offering prescription drug benefits and drugmakers. They also hold down costs by extracting discounts and rebates from drugmakers, using tiered copayments that nudge patients to buy generics or the lowest-cost brand names, and reminding patients to take medicines as scheduled to limit costly complications.

Together, Express Scripts and Medco handled more than 1.7 billion prescriptions in 2010 and reported almost $110 billion in revenue.

Wal-Mart agrees to share market data with Nielsen

The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has agreed to resume sharing consumer data with a major market research firm, a move that could help other retailers, as well as manufacturers, better understand how Americans shop and could influence what appears on store shelves.

Most U.S. food, drug, discount and convenience chains provide Nielsen Holdings N.V. with sales data, but Wal-Mart is considered the single most important bellwether of consumer spending because it accounts for nearly 10 percent of all nonautomotive retail dollars spent in the U.S.

About 100 million shoppers visit Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. each week. The company generated net revenue of $419 billion worldwide in its latest fiscal year.

Fair increases help airlines achieve quarterly profits

Fare increases gave United Continental and US Airways profitable quarters despite the financial damage the airlines suffered from sharply higher fuel prices.

On Thursday both airlines reported smaller second-quarter profits than a year ago – down almost 12 percent at United Continental, and a 67 percent drop at US Airways.

Airlines have put growth plans on the shelf and, especially at United, focused on getting more business travelers on board. That has allowed the airlines to raise fares. On Thursday, some airlines attempted a fare increase of up to $20 per round-trip.

Morgan Stanley stock soars as trading revenue rises

Morgan Stanley wowed Wall Street Thursday with something that’s been elusive at its rivals: a pickup in trading revenue.

As a result, Morgan Stanley reported a much smaller loss than investors were expecting for the second quarter. A 17 percent gain in revenue, to $9.3 billion, was also more than Wall Street anticipated. That sent Morgan Stanley’s stock surging more than 11 percent Thursday to $24.20.

Morgan Stanley, which almost didn’t survive the financial crisis of 2008, also got to claim a key bragging right: taking in more revenue last quarter than its fiercest rival, Goldman Sachs.

The bank’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, said in an interview that Morgan Stanley has worked at “deepening” relationships with its clients. That means working on multiple deals with each client at the same time, such as raising debt, advising on mergers and stock trading.

— From news service reports