It is always interesting to compare the headlines of earnings reports to the actual substance. While the top line and bottom line numbers are certainly important, a company's actual numbers and guidance can often be very different from what the original headline would have many traders and investors think.
While the S&P 500 and its tracking exchange traded fund, the SPY, has rallied over 20% from the lows of last year, and stocks such as Apple (AAPL) are up over 30%, few stocks have held up better over the last several months than dividend stocks.
One of the most popular dividend stocks has been Philip Morris International Inc. (PM).
As I wrote in my recent article several weeks ago, Philip Morris International has been incorrectly viewed as a Europe-based company for some time. While Philip Morris International has consistently derived over 30% of its revenues from the EU and over 40% of its revenues from Europe, the company's recent earnings report once again highlighted the company's continued ability to show solid revenues, despite weakness in the European region, and weakness in the euro.
Philip Morris International recently reported a nearly 4% drop in revenues largely because of a nearly 10% decline in EU revenues. Still, the company guided to 10-12% year-over-year earnings growth for 2012, the company suggested the euro would only likely impact the companies earnings per share by less than 5%, and the company continues to show stronger revenue growth than most leading dividend stocks such as Altria (MO), AT&T (T), and Procter & Gamble (PG).
What was most interesting to me about Philip Morris International's recent earnings report was the company's strength in Asia and emerging market. While traders and investors have known for some time that the EU has been particularly weak, with the less industrialized southern countries in Europe being particularly weak, the company's revenue numbers in Asia were most important this quarter.
Philip Morris International was able to gain significant market share in Japan last year after the country's earthquake and subsequent tsunami made Japan's largest tobacco company, Japan Tobacco Inc, unable to ship cigarettes within the country for several months, and Philip Morris International was able specially charter in planes to maintain the company's supply lines.
The fact that Philip Morris International's Asian revenues declined by less than 3% this quarter after the company saw an over 20% year-over-year gain in Asian revenues over the past year strongly suggests the company is keeping most of the market share gains in Japan that the management was able to take last year.
While Philip Morris International saw a minor decline in year-over-year Asian revenues and a nearly 10% decline in EU revenues, the company's strong shipment numbers and revenue growth in Russia and Turkey nearly offset revenue declines in the EU, with the company recently reporting nearly 7% revenue growth in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Philip Morris International did lose significant market share in the EU, with particularly strong losses in the weaker Mediterranean countries, but the company's strong pricing power and revenue growth in Eastern Europe and Russia offset most of this weakness. The company should also likely benefit from a moderate rebound in economic growth in the weaker European nations, as consumers appear to be trading down to cheaper cigarettes in these nations.
To conclude, Philip Morris International's management team has been among the best in the world for some time, and the company's recent market share gain in Japan, as well as the continually strong results that management's buyback programs have offered for shareholders, continue to show how good this leadership group really is.
Management recently bought back nearly $6 billion in stock over the last year at moderately to significantly lower prices than where the stock trades today, and the company continues to leverage its balance sheet to maximize shareholder returns with acquisitions, dividends, and buybacks. Management also suggested the EU and other poor market trends, such as in the Philippines, are likely to improve through the year, and the company has more than twice coverage of its interest payments than its tobacco peer Altria, at 13x.
If the company can continue to grow earnings at 11%-12% a year and generate significant free cash flow, the stock is likely to trade at 17x-18x average earnings estimates for next year - making the company a $100-$105 stock.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.