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Altria Shares Hit New High on Report

Shares of Altria Group kicked off 2007 with a bang, rising to a new 52-week high after a Lehman Brothers analyst said the cigarette maker is poised to report a solid fourth quarter.

Lehman Brothers analyst Michael J. Branca said when Altria reports fourth-quarter earnings investors will mostly focus on the New York-based company's plans for its Kraft Foods Inc. subsidiary. Altria's board plans to announce Jan. 31 the exact timing of the divestiture of its 88.6 percent stake, which will be distributed as stock to Altria shareholders.

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Nevertheless, Branca said he expects well-balanced revenue growth in the fourth quarter in Altria's national and international tobacco businesses. He anticipates 8% profit growth and healthy gross margin expansion.

Branca forecasts earnings of $1.26 a share, compared with analysts' consensus forecast of $1.23 a share.

Altria shares' previous 52-week high was $86.45.

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