Most smart investors know that Altria (NYSE:MO) has a strong market presence in the United States, where there is still a healthy consumption of its products. However, some people believe that this may be changing with the latest problems ailing the tobacco industry. The question remains of whether big tobacco can keep its investors smiling on their way to the banks.
For one, it's getting less and less acceptable to indulge in smoking in the US. It is also true that the costs involved in litigation and settlements can also increase overhead running costs and leave investors with little to share. We know this. Fortunately, Altria knows this too.
Altria already knows that cigarettes sales are on the decline. Yet, the Marlboro brand continues to outsell the products of other competitors. More so, the company is already working on holding the center stage in the world of smokeless cigarette products. Thus, it is not surprising that the company now offers some e-cigs, snuffs and chewing tobacco to counterbalance the low volume of sales resulting from a reduction in the consumption or regular cigarettes.
The company boasts a healthy pocketbook, which should allow it to keep combating the lower sales from its main-ticket item. Its revenue continues to beat out Wall Street estimates, thanks to wise investing and a lack of stubbornness that allowed it to diversify in the first place.
In fact, Michael E. Szymanczyk, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the company declared "Altria delivered strong financial results in the first quarter of 2012 as adjusted diluted EPS increased 11.4%." Thus, with the look of things, it is safe to state that strong market presence of its premium brands, smokeless products and the innovative cost cutting approaches that the company is implementing will surely sustain continual growth for the stock.
Nevertheless, a discussion is warranted on the stock of some of the company's competitors. British American Tobacco (NYSEMKT:BTI) is a competitor currently standing tall among tobacco companies. However, it seems that the company is no longer trying to contend with Altria's strong market presence. This assertion can be made in light of the fact that the company is now shifting its market focus on Asia and other emerging markets.
It is a well-known fact that the growing concerns associated with the smoking of tobacco can cause sales to reduce drastically in the U.S. through the coming years. This foresight is probably responsible for the focus on the Asian market for future sales. However, it may interest you to know that China, which is a potentially huge market is a no-go area, because tobacco sales are an exclusive right of the state-owned China National Tobacco.
However, in other markets, like Japan and India, there is a good chance that the company may record massive sales. Notwithstanding, such a projection is not realistic because Altria has already awakened to the prospects of these markets, and its strong brands, like Marlboro and Copenhagen, are already having a cliquish consumption.
Lorillard (NYSE:LO) recently completed the acquisition of Blue Ecigs, which makes a type of electronic cigarettes that turns nicotine-based liquid into a mist. While this may be a smart move for the diversification of its product line, it invariably forces LO to shell out a large amount of money, thereby increasing costs. If you want more information about what the management of Lorillard has to say, you should tune in to Goldman Sachs Consumer Product Symposium, scheduled for May 10.
Prospective investors of Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI) may need to slow down a bit not so much because of financial issues because of some current events between the management of the company and the workers union. The worker's union is planning to protest against the shareholder's meeting that has been scheduled for the company's Winston-Salem headquarters.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee and union groups are appalled at the conditions of the farm workers who harvest tobacco for Reynolds America in North Carolina. While this may look to be superficially irrelevant, if it goes on to develop into a lawsuit, it will generate some negative publicity for the company. You can estimate the amount of money needed to pay legal battles and settlements to be quite substantial.
Another stock that you need to watch out for is Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) which has really been doing well in the recent months and, more specifically, in the last quarter. If you have stock in the company, now may be a good time to sell, because people are rushing in to buy with news of its success. However, it seems that the stock is a little bit pricey and it would be smarter to wait for the pullback in order to know if the value would stabilize.
The success of Altria and its rivals is hard to ignore. If investors got out of tobacco stock because of falling cigarette sales, they must be kicking themselves about now. The companies continue to find new ways to both keep cash coming in and reward investors with high dividends. As experts point out, tobacco stocks are hard to quit.
Altria may be the king of this trend, though its competitors certainly make their own case for the top title. It's true that Altria's price may never skyrocket, since its main production line has dropping sales. However, it still reigns as a dividend titan, and that will keep investors coming back for more every time.
For now, you'll just have to silence out the "neutral" ratings and criticisms from the analysts. Altria will put money back in your pocket, and there are few other companies that can make that guarantee and back it up with history.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.