Express Scripts releases better-than-expected 2016 forecast

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Express Scripts is projecting 2016 earnings that surpass Wall Street expectations and affirmed earlier growth guidance for this year.

The outlook from the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager tops the average analyst forecast by at least three cents per share.

Express Scripts forecasts adjusted earnings to range between $6.08 and $6.28 per share.

Analysts expect, on average, earnings of $6.05 per share, according to FactSet.

The St. Louis company's projection amounts to growth of about 10 percent to 14 percent over the midpoint of its 2015 earnings outlook of $5.51 to $5.55 per share.

Analysts forecast $5.53 per share, on average, for this year.

It reiterated this year's forecast for adjusted earnings growth of between 13 percent and 14 percent.

Companies like Express Scripts run prescription drug coverage for insurers, large employers and other customers. They process mail-order prescriptions, handle bills for prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies and make recommendations on drug coverage.

Express Scripts Holding Co. provides coverage for more than 80 million people and has been a frequent critic of soaring drug costs. The company has used its massive customer base as leverage to help reign in the price of certain drugs.

Earlier this month, the company said it would promote a less-expensive alternative to Daraprim, a life-saving medicine for a rare condition that costs $750 per pill after Turing Pharmaceuticals bought rights to the drug and then raised the price more than 50-fold. Express Scripts said that it will make a treatment that costs $1 per pill.

The company heads into 2016 facing a transition. Express Scripts announced in September that CEO George Paz will retire in May and be replaced by Tim Wentworth, company president. Paz will remain company chairman. He has served as Express Scripts chief executive for more than a decade.

Shares of Express Scripts initially climbed sharply early Tuesday before markets opened, but fell 48 cents to $86.67 in midmorning trading.

The stock had climbed 3 percent so far this year, as of Monday's close, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has slipped about 2 percent.

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