Marlboro maker Altria 4Q profit falls

AP News
Posted: Jan 30, 2014 11:22 AM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Altria Group Inc.'s fourth-quarter profit dropped 56 percent as the Marlboro maker sold fewer cigarettes and recorded charges related to paying off debt early.

Its adjusted earnings and revenue narrowly missed Wall Street expectations.

The owner of the nation's biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, said Thursday that it earned $488 million, or 24 cents per share, down from $1.1 billion, or 55 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were 57 cents per share, missing Wall Street expectations by a penny.

Altria, based in Richmond, Va., said revenue, excluding excise taxes, fell 1 percent to $4.4 billion as higher prices helped offset a decline in volumes. Analysts polled by FactSet expected $4.5 billion.

Its shares fell 58 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $35.85 in morning trading Thursday. Its shares are up 6 percent over the past year.

Altria's full-year earnings rose 8.5 percent to $4.5 billion, or $2.26 per share. Revenue, excluding excise taxes, rose less than one percent to $17.7 billion. Adjusted full-year earnings were $2.38 per share.

The company also said Thursday it expects 2014 full-year adjusted earnings between $2.52 and $2.59 per share. Analysts expect $2.57 per share.

"Consumer confidence generally is up but it's nowhere around where we'd like to see it," CEO Marty Barrington said in a conference call with investors. "We're always hopeful that the economy is going to improve for everyone. It's just hard to find a lot of drivers to cause us to believe that for the adult tobacco consumer (that) 2014 is going to look very much different than 2013."

Cigarette volumes fell about 6 percent during the quarter to 31.8 billion cigarettes. Adjusting for trade inventory changes, cigarette volumes fell 4 percent, on par with the total industry decline.

Marlboro volumes fell 5.7 percent but its share of the retail U.S. market rose 0.2 percentage points to 43.7 percent. The company's share of the U.S. retail market rose 0.3 percentage points to 50.7 percent.

The Marlboro brand has been under pressure from competitors and lower-priced cigarette brands amid economic uncertainty and high unemployment.

That's on top of the tax hikes, smoking bans and a social stigma that have made the cigarette business tougher.

Altria and others are focusing on cigarette alternatives — such as electronic cigarettes, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco — for future sales growth because the decline in cigarette smoking is expected to continue.

Adjusted volumes for its smokeless tobacco brands such as Copenhagen and Skoal grew about 5 percent. Volumes for its Black & Mild cigars rose 8.5 percent.

Altria also owns a wine business, holds a voting stake in brewer SABMiller, and has a financial services division.