Altria Group (NYSE:MO) certainly had an interesting 2013. The company has faced declining cigarette volumes for many quarters. However, the impact to earnings has been more than offset by growth in other areas, including smokeless tobacco products and wines. Altria was also able to reward its shareholders last year with a respectably large 9.1% dividend increase in Q3. At current prices, Altria yields about 5.40%.
Q4 2013 Overview
Altria's results came in generally in line with estimates. Adjusted net income came in at $1.14B, up slightly from $1.11B last year. Adjusted EPS of $0.57 did miss estimates by penny, though it was still up 2 cents from last year's $0.55. However, revenues were much higher than expected, coming in above estimates at $6.10B, down less than 3% compared to last year.
Below is a closer look at Altria's results by segment:
Altria's smokeable products segment, basically cigarettes and cigars, posted net revenues of $5.42B, down 3.2% from $5.60B last year. However, when adjusting for excise taxes, revenues were actually down only 1.8% to $3.79B.
Declining cigarette volumes were the cause of this decline in revenues, down 5.8% to 31.8B units. Altria's juggernaut Marlboro brand saw volumes decline 5.7% to 27.5B while other premium cigarettes saw a sharp 11.4% drop in volumes to 1.88B. Discount brand cigarettes fared better, with volumes only down 2.1% to 2.52B, which may indicate some downtrading by consumers. However, bucking the trend were cigar volumes, increasing 8.6% to 307M units.
Even with lower revenues, Altria was still able to squeeze out higher operating income due to cost cutting and higher pricing. Adjusted income came in at $1.59B, up 3.6% from $1.54B last year. As a result, segment margins increased to 42.1% from 39.9% last year.
Altria smokeless tobacco products, namely chewing tobacco, posted net revenues of $445M, down 1% from last year. This was caused by lower volumes, down 4.3% to 198.5M packs.
Lower revenues did not stop Altria from still seeing income growth. Due to higher pricing, Altria saw segment income grow 1.2% to $257M. Margins also expanded, up to 62.5%,from 60.8% last year.
However, volumes were negatively impacted by calendar differences, which shifted one full week of volumes into 2014. Adjusting for these differences, volumes are estimated to have grown 5% in Q4.
Altria's wine segment, while tiny, did see the strongest growth. Total wine volumes were up 5.8% to 2.56M cases. Revenues grew by 10% to $198M, while segment income also was boosted 9.8% to $45M. However, margins did slip slightly to 23.6% from 23.7%.
Dividend, share buybacks, and 2014 outlook
During 2013, Altria rewarded its shareholders mostly via dividends and share buybacks. The company bought back around 16.7M shares at an average price of $36.05 per share for $600M in 2013. In addition, Altria paid out roughly $3.7B in dividends this year. Combined, this totals $4.3B in capital returns, good for about a 6.1% shareholder return yield.
Do note that we can also estimate Altria's future dividend growth given its updated guidance. The company has noted that it targets its dividend payout ratio to be about 80% of its adjusted EPS. With guidance calling for adjusted EPS to range from $2.52 to $2.59, this leads to a potential dividend range of $2.01 to $2.07 per share, or about $0.50 to $0.52 per quarter. This would mark 4% to 8% dividend growth compared to the current dividend of $0.48 per share per quarter.
It appears that the market is giving long-term investors a buying opportunity in Altria. As of this writing, shares of Altria are trading down about 3%. This sell off seems unreasonable given the results and strong 2014 guidance. At current prices, Altria now trades at a forward PE of under 14x.
Many high quality, "blue chip" type investments are on sale at the moment. Though with Altria, you can pretty much pencil in the current 5.40% yield as well as some level of dividend growth. With 46 dividend increases in 44 years, few stocks have as much dividend-growth credentials as Altria.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell the stocks mentioned. Please do your own due diligence before making any investment decision.
Disclosure: I am long MO. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.