* Walgreen has option to buy rest of Alliance Boots in 2015
* Progress on joint relationships with suppliers, sourcing
* Trading environment could improve later in year (Adds details, background)
LONDON, May 15 (Reuters) - Alliance Boots said it had seen more benefits than expected so far from its partnership with U.S. drugstore operator Walgreen Co, and reported an 18.5 percent rise in underlying attributable profit.
Walgreen bought a 45 percent stake in Alliance Boots in 2012, with an option to buy the rest in 2015.
Alliance Boots, which runs Europe’s largest pharmacy chain, reported sales for the year to March 31 rose 4.3 percent to 23.4 billion pounds ($39.26 billion). Underlying profit was 840 million pounds.
“Our joint synergy programme with Walgreen is increasingly providing us with significant financial benefits,” Alliance Boots said in a statement. “While still at an early stage, we are pleased with the overall progress of the programme, total synergies achieved to date (are) tracking ahead of target.”
Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens reported a lower-than-expected profit for the quarter ended Feb. 28 but said it expected a bigger boost this year from its partnership with Alliance Boots.
Alliance Boots said particularly good progress had been made with a joint venture established with Walgreens to lead global relationships with pharmaceutical and other suppliers. It is also working on a joint own-brand sourcing programme in Asia and rolling out selected Boots products in Walgreens stores.
Alliance Boots said it expected the trading environment to remain challenging as European governments seek to curb healthcare spending and it faces a slow recovery in the UK, but it hopes for some improvement in the latter part of the year.
It reiterated its desire to pursue acquisitions in Latin America and China after it agreed to buy Grupo Casa Saba SAB de CV’s pharmacy networks in Mexico and Chile.
Stefano Pessina, the Italian billionaire chairman of Alliance Boots, declined to comment on a report that Walgreen is under pressure from a group of shareholders to consider relocating to Europe to gain tax benefits. ($1 = 0.5960 British Pounds) (Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Kate Holton and Keiron Henderson)