The Closing Bell: Big Bar expansion growing?; Humana reports high customer gains; Edelen closer to finalizing gubernatoral run; and more

Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

With The Wine Market closed, Big Bar’s expansion plans seem to grow

Big Bar separated by a wall from The Wine Market, which closed on Jan. 1. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

After ensuring customers had wine and other alcohol they wanted to ring in the New Year, The Wine Market at Bardstown Road and Lucia Avenue has closed.

The liquor store announced the closing on Facebook on Christmas Eve, giving customers a week to let the news sink in.

“Thank you for shopping with us but, more than that, thank you for getting to know us and allowing us to get to know you. Thank you for the laughs, the conversation, the memories. It’s been a great run & we will never forget it,” the post reads.

After heading back to work on Jan. 2, Insider reached out to Gordon Jackson, owner of Old Town Wine & Spirits — which remains open — and The Wine Market, to ask about the decision to shutter the business.

In an email, Jackson, who also owns the building that The Wine Market operated in, did not offer a reason but did say what’s next.

“The building was sold to the bar next door,” he said. “We are moving the inventory, cheese shop and our awesome staff up the street to Old Town.”

The bar next door is Big Bar. Owner Kevin Bryan declined to comment when reached.

It is likely, however, that the bar, which despite its name is cramped when busy, has altered its expansion plans. Insider noted last fall that Bryan plans to make the main bar 18 inches wider on each side, as well as add a rooftop bar and patio and two more restrooms.

With the acquisition of two-story The Wine Market building, Bryan could add another 3,262 square feet. Despite having different owners, the two buildings are only separated by wall space. —Caitlin Bowling

Humana customer gain at high end of forecast

Photo by Boris Ladwig

Humana said Wednesday that it is gaining Medicare Advantage customers at the high end of its previously projected range. The company also reaffirmed its earnings projection.

The insurer also said that the decline in customers it expects for its prescription drug plans will be at the low end of the previously announced range.

The annual enrollment period for Medicare, the government-sponsored health insurance program for older Americans, ended Dec. 7. With Medicare Advantage, the benefits are provided through a private health insurer.

Humana said that based on final results of the enrollment period, it expects the number of customers in its individual Medicare Advantage business this year to increase 375,000 to 400,000, up from its previous estimate, the low end of which was 350,000.

In total, the Louisville-based insurer said it expects to have about 3.07 million customers in its individual Medicare Advantage business this year, up about 12.5 percent from last year.

The company previously said that it expected to gain customers in part because some of its plans have received a higher quality rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

For its prescription drug plans, the insurer said it expects to lose about 725,000 customers, down from its previous projection of about 775,000. The company previously said that it expects to lose customers because its “pricing discipline” has resulted in it no longer being able to offer the lowest-cost plan in any market this year.

The insurer’s projection for the number of customers in its group Medicare Advantage plans remained unchanged at about 500,000, or up about 6 percent. Humana also reiterated that it still expects its 2018 earnings per share to be around $11.96. Fourth-quarter results are expected to be announced on Feb. 6. —Boris Ladwig

Edelen and Holland file paperwork on run for governor

Adam Edelen | Courtesy of Adam Edelen

Democrats Adam Edelen and Gill Holland moved another step closer to finalizing their ticket on a run for governor on Thursday morning, as they filed paperwork to raise money for the race this year.

Insider Louisville first reported the possibility of the Louisville businessman being tapped as Edelen’s running mate three weeks ago, as Holland strongly suggested the two would enter the race.

Edelen — the former state auditor who lost his race for re-election in 2015 — and Holland are expected to formally announce their candidacy early next week.

Attorney General Andy Beshear and House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins have already joined the Democratic primary for governor, with the candidate filing deadline in late January. Gov. Matt Bevin indicated last summer that he would run for another term, but he has yet to file the paperwork to do so. —Joe Sonka

More private equity dollars flowing into health care

Private equity firms increasingly are putting their dollars into health care, according to an analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Courtesy of PricewaterhouseCoopers

The company’s Health Research Institute said that it expects 747 health care deals this year involving private equity buyers or sellers. That would an increase of more than 12 percent from 2018.

HRI said private equity firms are stepping up their presence in a highly fragmented industry, “seizing on consolidation opportunities to build a better business model.”

The Louisville community continues to be affected by the trend: Last year, Humana and private equity partners bought Louisville-based Kindred Healthcare, and BlueMountain Capital, a New York-based alternative asset management firm, continues its talks with KentuckyOne Health to buy the struggling Jewish Hospital and other assets.

HRI said it expects private equity firms’ interest in health care to “accelerate in 2019, giving traditional health care companies opportunities to sell all or portions of non-core assets and double down on their core competencies, or partner with private equity in acquisitions in which they would otherwise be competing against each other or unable to act on their own.”

Part of the interest in health care is a result of demographics, according to the institute. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects that national health care spending will increase an average annual 5.5 percent through 2026. Spending in 2017 already was $3.5 trillion in 2017, or $10,739 per person.

“As private equity firms seek to balance their investments in more volatile industries, such as technology, with investments in more stable industries that are less prone to a recession’s effects, the growing healthcare industry may appear even more attractive,” HRI said. Boris Ladwig

Sazerac continues to acquire liquor brands, gets into India market

Just a few bourbons and whiskeys Sazerac produces, among many spirits. | Courtesy of Sazerac

Just last month, Insider told you about Sazerac buying up 19 brands from Diageo to the tune of $550 million. Well, we’re only four days into the new year, and the Louisiana-based company has purchased 19 more from Star Industries out of New York and Black Prince Distillery in New Jersey.

None of the brand names sound all that familiar, but here’s the list: Georgi, Majorska, Llord’s, Alexis, Alexi, Black Prince, Blansac, Caribaya, Carnaby’s, Clyde’s, Devil Springs, Donegal, Dorado, Duncan’s, Little John, McColl’s, R.J. Hodges, Sir Francis and Wild Flame.

The purchase price was not disclosed in this sale, and Black Prince Distillery will continue to produce its spirits for about six months until things can be transferred over.

The company also is setting its sites on the India spirits market and has completed a two-part acquisition of a minority stake in John Distilleries Pvt Ltd, a leading liquor producer in India, according to The Economic Times.

John Distilleries produces the seventh-largest whiskey brand, Original Choice Whisky, and also makes Paul John, a single malt whisky that has been garnering some attention over the years.

In Kentucky, Sazerac owns and operates the Buffalo Trace Distillery and Barton 1792 Distillery, and it’s also taking over New Albany’s former General Mills facility for a bottling and distribution center. —Sara Havens