As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In Altria's (MO) case, we think the firm is worth $35 per share. This represents over 25% valuation upside from today's levels. And coupled with nearly a 6% dividend yield, the firm's total return potential is too hard to pass up.
For some background, we think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation, relative valuation versus industry peers, as well as an assessment of technical and momentum indicators is the best way to identify the most attractive stocks at the best time to buy. This process culminates in what we call our Valuentum Buying Index, which ranks stocks on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.
If a company is undervalued both on a DCF and on a relative valuation basis and is showing improvement in technical and momentum indicators, it scores high on our scale. Altria scores a very respectable 7 on our scale (reflecting its undervaluation and bullish technicals), and we are big holders of the company in our Best Ideas Newsletter. We think Altria represents one of the best dividend plays on the market today.
Our Report on Altria
For every company in our coverage universe, we rate them on 13 unique measures. To get started, we show Altria's below:
Altria's business quality (an evaluation of our ValueCreation™ and ValueRisk™ ratings) ranks among the best of the firms in our coverage universe.
The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders with relatively stable operating results for the past few years, a combination we view very positively.
Altria has a good combination of strong free cash flow generation and manageable financial leverage. We expect the firm's free cash flow margin to average about 33.6% in coming years.
The company's stock price has outperformed the benchmark during the last quarter, and its valuation still looks interesting at these levels. Investors could be accumulating shares, as the stock continues to trade at bargain-basement levels.
The firm sports a very nice dividend yield of nearly 6%. We expect the firm to pay out about 80% of next year's earnings to shareholders as dividends. Dividend growth should continue to track earnings expansion at the company -- we're expecting compound annual earnings growth of 5% during the next 5 years.
Economic Profit Analysis
The best measure of a firm's ability to create value for shareholders is expressed by comparing its return on invested capital (ROIC) with its weighted average cost of capital (WACC). The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. Altria 's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 44.1%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 9.5%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of EXCELLENT. In the chart below, we show the probable path of ROIC in the years ahead based on the estimated volatility of key drivers behind the measure. The solid grey line reflects the most likely outcome, in our opinion, and represents the scenario that results in our fair value estimate.
Cash Flow Analysis
We think Altria's shares are worth $35 each. This represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 18.6 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 12.7 times last year's EBITDA.
We project a compound annual revenue growth rate of 2.2% during the next five years, a pace that is higher than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 42.9%, which is above Altria Group's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, our valuation model assumes free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 1.9% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity (relatively modest assumptions). For Altria Group, we use a 9.5% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.
Margin of Safety Analysis
Our discounted cash flow process values each firm on the basis of the present value of all future free cash flows. Although we estimate the firm's fair value at about $35 per share, every company has a range of probable fair values that's created by the uncertainty of key valuation drivers (like future revenue or earnings, for example). After all, if the future was known with certainty, we wouldn't see much volatility in the markets as stocks would trade precisely at their known fair values. Our ValueRisk™ rating sets the margin of safety or the fair value range we assign to each stock.
In the graph below, we show this probable range of fair values for Altria Group . We think the firm is attractive below $28 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $42 per share (the red line). The prices that fall along the yellow line, which includes our fair value estimate, represent a reasonable valuation for the firm, in our opinion.
Future Path of Fair Value
We estimate Altria Group's fair value at this point in time to be about $35 per share. As time passes, however, companies generate cash flow and pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends. The chart below compares the firm's current share price with the path of Altria Group 's expected equity value per share over the next three years, assuming our long-term projections prove accurate. The range between the resulting downside fair value and upside fair value in Year 3 represents our best estimate of the value of the firm's shares three years hence.
This range of potential outcomes is also subject to change over time, should our views on the firm's future cash flow potential change. The expected fair value of $41 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $35 increased at an annual rate of the firm's cost of equity less its dividend yield. The upside and downside ranges are derived in the same way, but from the upper and lower bounds of our fair value estimate range.
Pro Forma Financial Statements